Prosecutors in Northern California filed seven murder charges on Wednesday against the man accused of shooting farm workers in the quaint oceanfront town of Half Moon Bay.
Prosecutors also filed an attempted murder charge against the suspect, who reportedly said he believed he was “disrespected” by the victims of Monday’s shooting.
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, from San Francisco; Qizhong Cheng, 66, from Half Moon Bay; Jingzhi Lu, 64, from Half Moon Bay; and Yetao Bing, 43, whose whereabouts were unknown.
The charges filed by DA Steve Wagstaffe against suspect Chunli Zhao, 66, do include the name of the seventh victim, Jose Romero Perez, and one attempted murder charge related to the shooting of Pedro Romero Perez.
“We’ve never had a seven-homicide case in San Mateo County before,” Wagstaffe said at a news conference.
Zhao made his first appearance in court in Redwood City on Wednesday afternoon.
He was handcuffed and wearing a red prison jumpsuit, and walked into court with a yellow piece of paper that he sometimes used to hide his face from cameras.
Zhao, who communicated 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 to be held without bail and set his arraignment for February 16.
Investigators have labeled the killings as acts of “workplace violence”, with Zhao working with some of the victims.
Zhao worked at Mountain Mushroom Farm, one of two farms where workers were killed 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 colleagues in the years leading up to the shootings.
Zhao was arrested about two hours after the shooting while sitting in his parked car outside the sheriff’s substation in Half Moon Bay.
The criminal charges indict Zhao in the order that investigators believe the murders and attempted murders occurred, Wagstaffe said. The charges start with Qi Zhong Cheng and end with Ai Xiang Zhang.
“This research is two days old,” Wagstaffe said. “There is still a lot to learn.”
The charges allow for life without parole or death if convicted, but Wagstaffe said no decision has yet been made on the death penalty.
Gemma DiCasimirro, Irene Byon and Phil Helsel contributed.