7 people killed in related shootings south of San Francisco

Police say a suspect is in custody after seven people were killed in separate but related shootings Monday at two agricultural facilities in the coastal community of Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco.

Man in custody after 2 separate shootings at agricultural facilities

A man lying on the ground being subdued by a law enforcement agent.
In this still image taken from video, a suspect is arrested by law enforcement personnel following two shootings in the Northern California community of Half Moon Bay. (KGO/Reuters)

Seven people were killed in two related shootings Monday at agricultural facilities in a California coastal community south of San Francisco, marking the state's third mass killing in eight days, including Saturday's attack at a dance hall that killed 11 during Lunar New Year celebrations.

Officers arrested a suspect in Monday's shootings, 67-year-old Chunli Zhao, after they found him in his car in the parking lot of a sheriff's substation, San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said.

Four people were found dead and a fifth injured from gunshot wounds at a farm, and officers found three other people killed at another location several miles away, the Sheriff's Office said. The killings occurred on the outskirts of Half Moon Bay, a city about 48 kilometres south of San Francisco. Corpus said the two locations were nurseries, and it wasn't immediately clear how they were connected.

The new year has brought a shocking string of mass killings in the United States — six in less than three weeks, accounting for 39 deaths. Three have occurred in California since Jan. 16, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University. The database tracks every mass killing — defined as four dead not including the offender — committed in the U.S. since 2006.

Officials believe Zhao is a worker at one of the facilities and that the victims were workers as well, Corpus said. Some workers at one facility lived on the premises and children may have witnessed the shooting, she said.

Corpus said officials hadn't determined a motive for the shooting.

People carrying supplies in bags enter a family reunification centre after a shooting in Half Moon Bay, Calif. A female police officer stands at the door.
People carry supplies into a family reunification centre in Half Moon Bay, Calif., after two related shootings Monday killed seven people. (Jeff Chiu/The Associated Press)

Half Moon Bay Vice-Mayor Joaquin Jimenez said the victims included Chinese and Latino farmworkers.

The Sheriff's Office first received reports of a shooting just before 2:30 p.m. PT and found four people dead from gunshot wounds and a fifth person injured at the first scene. Shortly thereafter, officers found three more people dead from gunshot wounds at a second location nearby, Capt. Eamonn Allen said in a news release.

About two hours after first responding, a sheriff's deputy noticed the suspect, Zhao, in his car parked outside a sheriff's substation in a strip mall and arrested him, recognizing the car by its licence plate.

A video of the arrest showed three officers approaching a parked car with drawn weapons. Zhao got out of the car, and the officers pulled him to the ground, put him in handcuffs, and led him away. A weapon was found in his vehicle, officials said. The video was captured by Kati McHugh, a Half Moon Bay resident who witnessed the arrest.

The sheriff's department believes Zhao acted alone.

Police officers seen by the light of their police cars in the dark, the word "sheriff" on their backs.
Law enforcement personnel control the scene of a shooting Monday in Half Moon Bay, Calif. (Jeff Chiu/The Associated Press)

Shootings rock 'close-knit' agricultural community

"We're still trying to understand exactly what happened and why, but it's just incredibly, incredibly tragic," said state Sen. Josh Becker, who represents the area and called it "a very close-knit" agricultural community.

Aerial television images showed police officers collecting evidence from a farm with dozens of greenhouses.

Half Moon Bay is a small coastal city with agricultural roots now home to about 12,000 people. The city and surrounding San Mateo County area is known for producing flowers as well as vegetables like brussels sprouts. The county allows cannabis farming in certain areas.

It's a majority white community and about five per cent of the population is Asian, according to Census data.

"We are sickened by today's tragedy in Half Moon Bay," Pine said. "We have not even had time to grieve for those lost in the terrible shooting in Monterey Park. Gun violence must stop."

California Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted that he was "at the hospital meeting with victims of a mass shooting when I get pulled away to be briefed about another shooting. This time in Half Moon Bay. Tragedy upon tragedy."


  • An earlier version of this story stated that the name of the shooting suspect was Zhao Chunli. In fact, the suspect's name is Chunli Zhao.
    Jan 23, 2023 11:00 PM ET
  • A previous version of this story said one of the shootings took place at a trucking business on the outskirts of Half Moon Bay. In fact, police say both shootings took place at different agricultural facilities.
    Jan 23, 2023 11:13 PM ET