Authorities in Northern California are working to determine the motive of a suspect they said killed seven people and injured one in two separate areas of a small coastal city, becoming one of at least three communities in the state to mourn lives lost to mass shootings in three days.
The suspect, Chunli Zhao, 67, was taken into custody Monday after deputies found him in a vehicle in the parking lot of a sheriff’s substation more than two hours after the shootings in Half Moon Bay, according to San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus.
“This kind of shooting is horrific,” Corpus said of the violence in the community of some 11,000 residents about 30 miles south of San Francisco. “It’s a tragedy that we hear about far too often but today has hit home here in San Mateo County,” she said during a news conference Monday night.
The horror unfolded around 2:22 p.m. local time Monday when deputies learned of the shooting in an unincorporated area of San Mateo County, Corpus added.
One shooting occurred at a mushroom farm and another near a trucking facility, approximately two miles from the farm, according to Dave Pine, president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.
At one shooting scene, officers found four victims dead and one wounded, Corpus said. Shortly after, three more victims were found dead at a separate site, she added. When asked to clarify which location the first shooting occurred in, Corpus told reporters that’s still under investigation.
The injured person was in critical condition at a local hospital Monday night, Corpus said.
During the investigation, Zhao was identified as a suspect and was later found sitting inside his vehicle at the substation, a statement from the sheriff’s office said.
Zhao was taken into custody without incident around 4:40 p.m., and a semi-automatic handgun was found in his vehicle at that time, Corpus said.
Investigators were working with the district attorney to interview Zhao, the sheriff said.
Just this month alone, California has seen at least five mass shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which – like CNN – defines a mass shooting as one where at least four people are wounded or killed, not including the assailant.
The grief gripping the Half Moon Bay community comes against the backdrop of other neighborhoods reeling from gun violence across the US, where overall at least 39 mass shootings have occurred so far this year, the archive’s data shows.
One of those shootings happened just hours after the gunfire in Half Moon Bay in Oakland, about 40 miles to the northeast. One person was killed and seven others were injured in a shooting there Monday evening, police said.
And another mass shooting devastated Monterey Park in southern California, where a gunman opened fire Saturday night, claiming the lives of at least 11 people and wounding nine others. The shooting happened near the site of the majority Asian American city’s Lunar New Year festival.
The owners of the mushroom farm in Half Moon Bay where multiple victims were found said the killings have left them “shook” and that they have no prior knowledge of the gunman or his motives.
“With no past knowledge with this gunman or his motives, we are shook and very eager to gain more information from the authorities and their investigations,” Concord Farms said in a statement to CNN. “Our hearts are with the victims, their families and the Chinese American community– from Half Moon Bay to Monterey Park.”
Monterey Park Mayor Henry Lo offered condolences to Half Moon Bay residents, saying his community is now on the “long road of recovery” to heal.
“I know what is in store for them in the next few days,” Lo said.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he was at a hospital meeting victims of the Monterey Park mass shooting when he was “pulled away to be briefed about another shooting. This time in Half Moon Bay.”
“Tragedy upon tragedy,” Newsom tweeted.
Ray Mueller, a San Mateo County supervisor, said the Half Moon Bay community needs to come together in healing as well as support each other to address gun violence.
“There were farm workers affected tonight; there were children on the scene at the incidents. This is a truly heartbreaking tragedy in our community,” Mueller said.
Mueller spoke to the mental health toll the violence has unleashed in the community and urged people to seek help, especially as the city has been trying to recover from the impact of recent deadly flooding that stretched across large swaths of the state.
“Please take advantage of the mental health crisis counseling that is available,” he said, adding that anyone can reach out to the county’s hotline. “You are not alone.”