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Half Moon Bay suspect admits to shooting rampage, says he was bullied

Jan. 27, 2023 Updated Sat., Jan. 28, 2023 at 8:02 p.m.

Chunli Zhao appears for his arraignment at San Mateo Superior Court in Redwood City, Calif., on Wednesday.  (Shae Hammond)
Chunli Zhao appears for his arraignment at San Mateo Superior Court in Redwood City, Calif., on Wednesday. (Shae Hammond)
By Timothy Bella Washington Post

The agricultural worker suspected of killing seven people in a shooting rampage at two farms around Half Moon Bay, Calif., this week admitted that he committed the attacks in a jailhouse interview with local media on Thursday, saying he regretted going through with the act.

The suspect, 66-year-old Zhao Chunli, spoke with journalist Janelle Wang of KNTV in his first media interview since the shootings that rocked the small coastal community south of San Francisco. Zhao, who is charged with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, spoke to Wang for about 15 minutes in Mandarin in an interview at the San Mateo County Jail in Redwood City, Calif. No cameras were allowed inside the jail.

Zhao was asked by Wang whether he had any regrets for the killings. He answered with one word: “Yes.” He says that he has a mental illness and that he’s been “struggling with it for a while,” Wang said.

“He says he sees things unclearly and wants to be evaluated by a doctor,” the reporter said. “He said he is not in his right mind.”

When Wang asked Zhao about whether law enforcement reports of him being bullied and poorly treated by his co-workers were accurate, he told the reporter that it was “true.” Zhao also noted how he was “forced to work long hours, from early morning to sometimes 9 o’clock at night,” Wang said.

“He was paid for those extra hours, but when he voiced his complaints about the long days at the farm, he says his supervisor ignored him,” Wang reported.

Zhao used a legally purchased Ruger semiautomatic handgun during the shootings at Mountain Mushroom Farm and Concord Farms, according to authorities. Zhao, a Chinese national who has lived in the United States for at least a decade, told the San Francisco journalist that he has a green card and purchased the gun around 2021 – “and he had no problem buying the gun at a store.”

Zhao was apprehended within hours of the Monday shooting after he parked his SUV at the local sheriff’s office. He recounted to Wang how he drove to the sheriff’s substation in Half Moon Bay to turn himself in. When he did not see anyone in the front lobby of the substation, Zhao waited in his car for about two hours until an officer spotted the car and began taking pictures of his license plate, according to KNTV.

“He sat there thinking, ‘Yes, it’s me. Please arrest me already,’ ” Wang said.

The jailhouse interview aired one day after prosecutors charged Zhao with murder for a massacre described by police as a case of “workplace violence.”

Zhao lived and worked at the first farm attacked, which was previously known as Mountain Mushroom Farm before it was purchased by California Terra Garden last year. Prosecutors said Zhao had previously worked at Concord Farms, the second location he targeted. Zhao is “fully cooperating” with officials during the investigation, San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said this week.

The shootings in the Half Moon Bay area followed another mass killing in California days before, when 11 people died at a dance studio in Monterey Park.

The San Mateo Coroner’s Office released the names and ages of six of the people killed this week: Zhishen Liu, 73; Qizhong Cheng, 66; Marciano Martinez Jimenez, 50; Yetao Bing, 43; Aixiang Zhang, 74; and Jingzhi Lu, 64. Jose Romero Perez, the seventh person killed, was identified in the document charging Zhao. The attempted murder charge against Zhao is for the case of Pedro Romero Perez, the person who was shot and injured.

If convicted of all charges, Zhao could face life in prison or the death penalty, San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe told reporters outside the courthouse in Redwood City on Wednesday.

Toward the end of his jailhouse interview, Zhao told Wang that he lives with his wife in Half Moon Bay. Zhao told the reporter he does not know where his wife is and cannot get in touch with her. He added that he has a 40-year-old daughter in China whom he has also not spoken with since Monday’s massacre.

“He is unaware if she knows what is happening,” Wang said.

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The Washington Post’s Lisa Bonos, Joshua Partlow and Joanna Slater contributed to this report.

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