Half Moon Bay shooting suspect faces seven murder charges

California authorities identify six of the seven victims, as US reels from mass shootings and gun violence ‘epidemic’.

The accused gunman in a mass shooting that left seven people dead at two northern California mushroom farms in the United States has been charged with seven counts of murder and one of attempted murder.

Chunli Zhao, 66, was the lone suspect in Monday’s shooting, which authorities described as  “workplace violence”, in the town of Half Moon Bay near San Francisco.

The charges against Zhao were announced on Wednesday, hours before he was set to appear in court for the first time.

The Half Moon Bay tragedy was the second major mass shooting in California in three days. On Saturday, 11 people were fatally shot in the Los Angeles area town of Monterey Park amid Lunar New Year celebrations.

The San Mateo County coroner’s office identified six of the seven victims in the Half Moon Bay shooting on Wednesday, and officials said there were some migrant workers among them.

The victims were: Zhishen Liu, 73, of San Francisco; Marciano Martinez Jimenez, 50, of Moss Beach, California; Aixiang Zhang, 74, of San Francisco; Qizhong Cheng, 66, of Half Moon Bay; Jingzhi Lu, 64, of Half Moon Bay; and Yetao Bing, 43, whose hometown was unknown.

The seventh victim was “tentatively” identified, but the name has been withheld as authorities work to notify relatives, the coroner’s office said.

Servando Martinez Jimenez said his brother Marciano Martinez Jimenez was a delivery person and manager at one of the farms. He never mentioned Zhao or said anything about problems with other workers.

“He was a good person. He was polite and friendly with everyone. He never had any problems with anyone. I don’t understand why all this happened,” Martinez Jimenez told the Associated Press news agency.

Martinez Jimenez had lived in the United States for 28 years after arriving from the Mexican state of Oaxaca. His brother Servando said he is working with the Mexican consulate to get his brother’s body home.

Authorities say Zhao acted alone on Monday when he entered a mushroom farm where he worked in Half Moon Bay, shooting and killing four people and seriously wounding a fifth. He then drove to a nearby farm where he had worked previously and killed three more people, said Eamonn Allen, a sheriff’s office spokesperson.

The charges include additional factors that could result in the death penalty or life in prison without parole, but Governor Gavin Newsom has issued a pause on executions in California.

Those factors include that Zhao used a gun, caused great bodily injury, killed multiple people and had a prior felony conviction. No additional details were provided on the prior felony.

The high-profile massacres in California — two of the 40 mass shootings the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive has recorded in the US since the start of 2023 — have renewed calls to curb gun violence, as several Democrats advocated for stricter gun regulations.

“We are only 25 days into 2023 and 1,230 people have died from gun violence in the United States so far,” Congressman Sean Casten, an Illinois Democrat, wrote on Twitter. “69 of these deaths were in mass shootings. This is unacceptable. It’s time for an #AssaultWeaponsBan NOW.”

Democrat Congresswoman Sara Jacobs, who represents a California district, also called for action against gun violence.

“Today we observed a moment of silence for the victims of the Lunar New Year shooting in Monterey Park,” she said in a social media post. “But silence, thoughts, and prayers won’t bring back the 11 lives lost or ease their families’ healing. We need to take action and finally end the gun violence epidemic.”