A dispute over a $100 repair bill may have contributed to a pair of shootings that left seven people dead and another injured last week in Half Moon Bay, California, the San Mateo County district attorney told a local news station.
Chunli Zhao – the farmworker who faces seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder in connection to the attack – “had a dispute with the first victim regarding a $100 bill” for the cost of repairing a piece of farm equipment involved in an accident at California Terra Garden, the mushroom farm where Zhao worked, lived and allegedly killed his first four victims, Steve Wagstaffe told station KTVU.
“We feel none of the conduct is justified,” Wagstaffe said. “But we’ve got a lot to learn.”
Wagstaffe’s comments came soon after Zhao, 66, reportedly admitted in an interview with NBC Bay Area News to carrying out the shootings, which stunned the coastal city of Half Moon Bay amid a spate of mass shootings in California that claimed 19 lives over about 44 hours.
CNN has not been able to confirm independently what Zhao said in the interview and has reached out to his attorneys for comment.
Statements the suspect made to law enforcement “were consistent with what he told the reporters,” Wagstaffe told CNN on Monday, referring to the NBC Bay Area News interview.
“But I am not declaring it a fact that (the $100 bill dispute) sparked the shooting,” he said. “Much more investigation to do. But it is certainly what Zhao is saying.”
Last Monday, officers responded to the mushroom farm to find four people dead and one wounded, before finding three more dead at a separate site about 2 miles away, officials have said.
Zhao, a Chinese citizen, was a “coworker or former coworker” of the victims, and he allegedly targeted specific people, San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus told CNN, characterizing the attack as a “workplace violence incident.”
In a 15-minute interview conducted in Mandarin, Zhao told NBC Bay Area’s Janelle Wang he wasn’t in his right mind and didn’t know “what was happening mentally” when the shootings occurred, Wang said. The suspect expressed remorse and said he regrets the attacks, telling the reporter he believes he has some type of mental illness that he has struggled with for a while.
In a statement last week, a spokesman for California Terra Garden said all employees “had background checks, and there was nothing to indicate anything like this was even a possibility,” adding the company knew nothing of Zhao’s motive.
The shooting claimed the lives of Yetao Bing, 43; Qizhong Cheng, 66; Marciano Martinez Jimenez, 50; Aixiang Zhang, 74; Jingzhi Lu, 64; and Zhishen Liu, 73; per the San Mateo County Coroner’s Office. The seventh victim was tentatively identified, but the office withheld the name pending positive identification and the notification of the next of kin.
Among the dead were five Chinese citizens, according to China’s consulate in San Francisco.
Zhao’s arraignment is scheduled for February 16, when he is expected to enter a plea.