REDWOOD CITY, Calif. - The 66-year-old Half Moon Bay farmworker accused of killing seven of his co-workers in a case of "workplace violence" was charged with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.
Chunli Zhao appeared for the first time Wednesday afternoon in a packed San Mateo County courtroom wearing a red jumpsuit.
He is being held without bail after prosecutors argued that he is a flight risk and threat to the public.
Zhao's arraignment was postponed until February when he is expected to enter a plea.
His charges include additional allegations that could result in the death penalty or life in prison without parole, though Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued a moratorium on executions. Among those allegations are that Zhao used a gun, caused great bodily injury and killed multiple people.
"Under California law that enhances the penalty, in a case like this, it adds for each count 25 years to life," said San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe.
Authorities believe Zhao acted alone when he entered a mushroom farm in Half Moon Bay, 30 miles south of San Francisco, and opened fire on Monday afternoon, killing four and leaving another seriously wounded, San Mateo County Sheriff’s officials said.
MORE COVERAGE: Half Moon Bay shooting victims identified
He then drove to another nearby farm where he had previously worked, and killed another three people, said Capt. Eamonn Allen. He used a legally purchased semi-automatic handgun.
San Mateo County officials on Wednesday released the identities of six of the victims. They are Zhishen Liu, 73, of San Francisco; Qizhong Cheng, 66, of Half Moon Bay; Marciano Martinez Jimenez, 50, of Moss Beach; Yetao Bing, 43, Aixiang Zhang, 74, of San Francisco; Jingzhi Lu, 64; Jose Romero Perez.
A cousin told KTVU Perez was in his 30s and leaves behind a wife and four children in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Perez's younger brother, Pedro Romero Perez, is the eighth shooting victim, the cousin said, and the sole survivor of the workplace tragedy.
While sheriff's officials said the shooting was a place of workplace violence, a clear motive has not been spelled out, and not much is publicly known about Zhao.
Prosecutors said Wednesday the first three victims Zhao killed were his supervisor and the spouses of two of his co-workers.
About three hours after the shootings, Zhao drove to a sheriff's substation parking lot and sat there until detectives noticed him and took him into custody.
Investigators said a note was found in Zhao's car, but they would not disclose the contents.
A witness provided cell phone video of the takedown.
However, court filings almost 10 years ago, paint a picture of a man who got violent when angered.
A temporary restraining order filed in Santa Clara County civil court, was accused by a co-worker of trying to kill him by splitting his head open with knife and separately trying to suffocate the man with a pillow if Zhao didn't help him get his job back.
The ex-coworker and former roommate said Zhao threatened to make his life difficult at home and work and feared that Zhao might be dangerous.
According to court documents, the two worked at a restaurant in San Jose together, but Zhao quit.
The temporary restraining order has expired.
Zhao is from China and has lived in the United States for at least a dozen years, Wagstaffe said. He had legal paperwork to live in the country at one time and investigators were determining whether it was still valid, Wagstaffe said. They were also looking into his prior contact with law enforcement.
The mass shooting in Half Moon Bay follows the killing of 11 in Monterey Park amid Lunar New Year celebrations Saturday.
Chunli Zhao, the alleged Half Moon Bay shooter, appeared for the first time in court on Wednesday, January 25, 2023. Zhao was charged with seven counts of murder and count of attempted murder in the shooting that claimed the lives of seven of his-coworkers.