HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (KRON) — Chunli Zhao, the suspect in a mass shooting that killed seven people in Half Moon Bay and left another critically injured, had a history of threatening coworkers and employers, according to court records obtained by KRON4.

“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,” the suspect’s ex-boss wrote in a restraining order filed a decade ago.

Zhao, 66, was most recently an employee of Mountain Mushroom Farm in Half Moon Bay, according to investigators. California Terra Garden said Zhao was also one of its employees.

“All the evidence we have points to this being the instance of workplace violence. (The) only known connection between the victims and the suspect is they may have been co-workers,” San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said. Four people were gunned down at the mushroom farm before three more victims were fatally shot at a second farm.

Chunli Zhao was arrested in front of reporters in Half Moon Bay on Jan. 23, 2023. (KRON4 image)

San Mateo County investigators told reporters that “there were no preceding factors … that would have suggested Zhao was about to carry out this heinous act of violence.” A spokesperson for California Terra Garden said Monday’s violence was shocking and “no previous concerns about Zhao were raised to management.”

However, court records in nearby Santa Clara County revealed that Zhao allegedly made death threats against ex-co-workers and his former boss a decade ago.

Zhao was accused in 2013 of trying to suffocate his roommate and former boss, Yingjiu Wang, inside their San Jose apartment, according to court records obtained by KRON4 Tuesday. Wang filed a restraining order against Zhao stating they were “roommates,” and that Zhao was his “ex-employee.”

A restraining order obtained by KRON4 revealed Zhao made death threats in San Jose against his former boss a decade ago.

Zhao worked for a South Bay restaurant until he quit on March 10, 2013. Wang described his escalating fear over Zhao’s hostile behavior.

Wang wrote in court documents, “Mr. Zhao said he would use a kitchen knife to split my head. Mr. Zhao attempted to suffocate me with his pillow. (He is) threatening to kill me if I don’t get him his job back.”

This is an image of law enforcement at a crime scene.
Investigators look for evidence at California Terra Garden, one of two shooting scenes where multiple people were killed. (Nhat V. Meyer/ Bay Area News Group via AP)

Wang accused Zhao of entering his room on March 12, 2013 inside their Greendale Way apartment. Zhao demanded paychecks and Wang told him the checks were at the restaurant, according to the restraining order.

Wang wrote, “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. While I couldn’t breathe, I used all my might within the few seconds to push him away with my blanket.”

Wang said he was able to escape Zhao’s grasp and call for help. Another roommate came to assist, but Wang believed Zhao locked the door to keep people out, court records state. The two men wrestled before Wang was able to calm Zhao down and end the fight.

On March 14, 2013, Wang returned home from work and headed to the kitchen to get water. He says that’s when Zhao confronted him demanding his job back. Wang says Zhao warned there would be a “bigger problem” for everyone if he was unable to get his job back. Wang took this as a threat towards him and the restaurant.

A judge granted the restraining order and ordered Zhao to remain at least three yards away from Wang when they were both present at the apartment. The restraining order expired several years ago.

No recent workplace issues, according to employer

California Terra Garden took over a farm on San Mateo Road in March 2022 when Zhao was already working on the farm, the company’s spokesperson, David Oates, said. There were no reports of concerns about Zhao while he worked for California Terra Garden, Oates said.

Oates said the company lost four friends and longtime employees in the mass shooting. Oates told KRON4. “We remain shocked and grief-stricken over the senseless loss of four of our friends and longtime employees, and we pray for the team member that remains in critical condition. 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. Additionally, we are making grief counseling services available for our other employees. 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.”

Deadliest shooting in San Mateo County’s history

District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said Monday’s mass shooting was the deadliest shooting in San Mateo County history.

The killing spree, manhunt, and arrest unfolded in just over two hours in the quiet coastal town known for its pumpkin patches and big wave surfing.

Zhao was apprehended after he drove up to a sheriff’s sub station parking lot and parked his SUV near where TV cameras were set up. A sheriff’s deputy spotted Zhao inside the SUV and recognized his license plate. Three deputies with guns drawn ordered Zhao to put his hands up and lay facedown on the ground. KRON4 Reporter Sara Stinson recorded video showing deputies swarming around the man and hauling him away in handcuffs.

Wagstaffe said Zhao will be arraigned in court on Wednesday afternoon after charges are filed. Investigators said Zhao is cooperating, but the Sheriff’s Office has not revealed what Zhao said during interrogations.