HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (KRON) — One of the two Half Moon Bay farms targeted in Monday’s mass shooting has a history of violence flaring between workers.
Just six months before the worst mass shooting in San Mateo County’s history, another shooting happened at California Terra Gardens, according to the District Attorney’s Office. One of the farm’s managers, 49-year-old Martin Medina, is currently behind bars in lieu of $5 million bail and facing attempted murder charges.
On Monday seven Hispanic and Asian farmworkers were gunned down, according to the San Mateo County Sheriff, by their co-worker, 66-year-old Chunli Zhao of Half Moon Bay. Sheriff Christina Corpus described the mass shooting as a horrific case of “workplace violence.” Prosecutors said Zhao was “angry at several co-workers over perceived mistreatment.”
Five victims were shot at California Terra Gardens, formerly known as Mountain Mushroom Farm, before Zhao drove to Concord Farms and allegedly murdered three more farmworkers, according to prosecutors. Only one victim survived.
California Terra Gardens confirmed that Zhao was one of its employees.
Medina lived in a trailer at California Terra Gardens, according to the District Attorney’s Office. On July 1 at 11:30 p.m., Medina threatened to kill his co-worker and his co-worker’s family who also lived on the farm in a trailer, prosecutors said.
“There was ongoing tension between them work-related,” prosecutors wrote. “The victim was in his home with his family when he heard (Medina) banging on his front door screaming he was going to kill the victim and his family.”
As Medina pulled on the trailer’s door handle, the 34-year-old victim held the door shut and told his family to hide. The victim looked out the window and saw Medina raising a handgun and pointing it at him, according to investigators.
Medina allegedly fired one shot through the door and no one was struck by the bullet. After firing the gun, Medina walked away and continued yelling that he planned to kill the victim, prosecutors wrote. San Mateo County Sheriff’s deputies were called out to the farm and found Medina walking a dog.
“He smelled of alcohol and denied any shooting,” prosecutors wrote. Deputies found blood just outside the victim’s trailer and they noticed that Medina had cuts on his hand.
Medina appeared in court on Monday for a preliminary hearing.
Zhao made his first court appearance Wednesday. He is charged with seven counts of premeditated murder, and one count of attempted murder. Zhao attempted to hide his face from KRON4’s TV camera positioned in the courtroom, he did not enter a plea, and a judge denied granting bail.
Santa Clara County court records obtained by KRON4 revealed Zhao allegedly made death threats against his former boss in San Jose a decade ago.
“Mr. Zhao said to me, ‘Today I am going to kill you.’ He then took a pillow and started to cover my face and suffocate me,” his ex-boss wrote in a restraining order. According to the restraining order, Zhao threatened to kill his ex-boss if he didn’t give his job back and pay him for past paychecks.
David Oates, a spokesperson for California Terra Garden, told KRON4 that Monday’s violence was “shocking” and “no previous concerns about Zhao were raised to management.”
California Terra Garden wrote in a statement, “We remain shocked and grief-stricken over the senseless loss of four of our friends and long-time employees. As we fully cooperate with law enforcement in their investigation, we are marshaling resources to care for the loved ones of our team members who passed away from this horrific tragedy. Our staff, who tirelessly work to grow the finest agricultural food products, are like family to us. We will rally together to begin the long healing process. We make this solemn promise to them.”
The mass shooting shed light on Half Moon Bay’s community of immigrant farmworkers. The quiet coastal town is usually best known for its annual pumpkin festival and big wave surfing.
Vice Mayor Joaquin Jiménez said at a press conference Tuesday, “Many of you come to the community for the pumpkins and ignore the farmworkers. Not today. We’re not going to ignore anybody. We’re going to support each other.”
San Mateo County Supervisor Ray Mueller said the farmworkers and their families were living in “deplorable” conditions on the farm.
“Viewed the crime scenes today in Half Moon Bay. Deplorable, heartbreaking living conditions. We must raise the quality of life of farm workers, now,” Mueller wrote on Thursday. “One room dwellings. No insulation. No running water. I spoke with one farmworker today who said she slept with flood waters from the storms on the floor in her unit.”
A sheriff’s coroner identified the murder victims as:
- Zhishen Liu, 73, of San Francisco
- Qizhong Cheng, 66, of Half Moon Bay
- Marciano Martinez Jimenez, 50, of Moss Beach
- Yetao Bing, 43, residence unknown
- Aixiang Zhang, 74, of San Francisco
- Jingzhi Lu, 64, of Half Moon Bay
The seventh murder victim was identified in court records as Jose Romero Perez. His brother was also shot and is currently recovering in a trauma center.
Half Moon Bay leaders and community members will hold a vigil on Friday, January 27 at 5 p.m. in Mac Dutra Plaza across from City Hall.