Culture

‘Oh my God, he killed him!’ Farmworkers share firsthand account of start of Half Moon Bay rampage


Crime scene tape is seen from this drone view at Mountain Mushroom Farms in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. Farm worker Chunli Zhao, 66, was booked on seven counts of murder after the Jan. 23 shooting. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

HALF MOON BAY — Erlin Ortiz and her sister Miriam had just finished their shift packing mushrooms at the California Terra Gardens farm and were sitting in their car ready to run an errand when the horror unfolded before them.

Right next to the greenhouses, co-worker Chunli Zhao – his back to them – pulled a gun from his red knapsack and pointed it at a fellow Chinese farmworker, shouting in his native Mandarin something they didn’t understand. Desperately, step by step, the farmworker backed up, Ortiz said, covering his face with his arms.

But the gunman shot him anyway.

Through the windshield, the sisters were watching the beginning of a killing spree Monday afternoon that would leave seven dead at two mushroom farms a few miles apart in a seaside town known for the innocence of its annual Pumpkin Festival – not mass murder.

Two days later, the Ortiz sisters were struggling to understand what triggered San Mateo County’s deadliest mass shooting.

“We were all in shock. It was terrible,” Miriam told the Bay Area News Group on Wednesday in the first witness accounts of Monday’s massacre. “There’s just no explanation for that.”

Investigators have described Zhao as a disgruntled worker but have said nothing yet about what set him off.

Crime scene tape is seen from this drone view at Mountain Mushroom Farms in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. Farm worker Chunli Zhao, 66, was booked on seven counts of murder after the Jan. 23 shooting. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) 

At first, Erlin and Miriam — whose husband was in the driver’s seat — said they felt paralyzed watching the violence from the car about 40 feet away. How could this be happening? The gunman was their 66-year-old coworker who lived just steps away from them in a horseshoe-shaped encampment at the farm, and grew onions for himself and his wife in a little plot next to their shed-like home with a blue tarp on top. Zhao always had a serious demeanor, Erlin said in Spanish, “like he never laughed, never really smiled.” Still, despite their language barrier, he would wave and say “Hola, amigo” anytime the sisters passed.

But now, he was heading menacingly toward a second worker. “He looked evil,” Erlin said. “He was super red and very angry.”

As the man was picking up a pallet of mushrooms, Erlin said, Zhao fired. The man collapsed to the ground.

Watching from the car, Miriam’s husband, who didn’t want to be identified, threw his hands to his head and said, “Oh my God, he killed him!” Erlin recounted. He hadn’t started the engine yet.

By then, they watched as the first victim tried to pick himself up and run for his life. But Zhao caught up to him, Erlin said, and at close range, shot him again.

That’s when Miriam’s husband started the car – a click of the ignition that startled Zhao – before throwing the car into reverse and hitting the gas. He turned to look at them then hopped on a forklift and …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

      

(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *