Northern California prosecutors on Wednesday filed seven murder charges and one attempted murder charge against the man accused of gunning down farm workers Monday in the quaint oceanside town of Half Moon Bay. The suspect said he believed he had been “disrespected” by the victims.
The San Mateo County Coroner’s Office has named six of the seven victims: Zhishen Liu, 73, of San Francisco; Marciano Martinez Jimenez, 50, of Moss Beach; 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 listed as unknown.
The charges filed by DA Steve Wagstaffe against suspect Chunli Zhao, 66, did include the name of the seventh victim, Jose Romero Perez, and one charge of attempted murder in connection to the shooting of Pedro Romero Perez.
“We have not had in San Mateo County before, a case with one instance of seven murders at once,” Wagstaffe said at a news conference.
Zhao made his initial court appearance on Wednesday afternoon in Redwood City.
He was shackled and in a red jail jumpsuit, and walked into court holding a yellow piece of paper that he at times used to conceal his face from cameras.
Zhao, communicating through a Mandarin interpreter, confirmed his name and San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Susan Jakubowski appointed attorney Jonathan D. McDougall to represent him.
Judge Jakubowski ordered Zhao held without bail and set his arraignment for Feb. 16.
Investigators have labeled the slayings as acts of “workplace violence,” with Zhao having worked with some of the victims.
Zhao worked at Mountain Mushroom Farm, one of two agricultural businesses where workers were killed on Monday afternoon, authorities said.
NBC Bay Area cited police sources with direct knowledge of the investigation to report that Zhao had told investigators that he had been “disrespected” by co-workers in the years leading up to the shootings.
Zhao was arrested about two hours after the shooting as he sat in his parked car outside the sheriff’s substation in Half Moon Bay.
The criminal complaint charges Zhao in the order that investigators believe the killings and attempted killing occurred, Wagstaffe said. The charges start with Qi Zhong Cheng, and end with Ai Xiang Zhang.
“This investigation is two days old,” Wagstaffe said. “There’s an awful lot more to learn.”
The charges allow for life without parole or death if convicted, but Wagstaffe said a decision on the death penalty has not been made.
Gemma DiCasimirro, Irene Byon and Phil Helsel contributed.