California reels from back-to-back mass shootings that left 18 dead

candlelight vigil
A candlelight vigil for the victims of the mass shooting in Monterey Park. REUTERS/David Swanson

A deadly rampage by a 67-year-old suspect in Northern California was likely an act of workplace violence, authorities said Tuesday, offering new details about the second straight mass shooting that killed 18 people and horrified to the nation.

In two separate shootings over three days, 11 people were killed at a Los Angeles-area dance hall and seven others were killed at two farms in the coastal city of Half Moon Bay near San Francisco.

Authorities said they were still trying to determine motives for both shootings.

Preliminary evidence indicated that the Half Moon Bay massacre was a case of workplace violence and that the gunman had used a legally owned weapon. In the Southern California shootings, officials declined to comment on a possible motive.

The suspects in both attacks are men of retirement age, much older than the typical perpetrators of the deadly mass shootings that have become routine in the United States.

On Monday, a gunman in Half Moon Bay opened fire on employees at Mountain Mushroom Farm, where he had previously worked, and Concord Farms, a mile away.

The suspect, Chunli Zhao, 67, was later detained after he was found sitting in his vehicle, parked in front of the sheriff’s station. Authorities said they believe he had come to surrender.

He killed seven and injured one, and all of his victims were Hispanic and Asian-American, San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus told reporters Tuesday.

“All the evidence we have points to this being a case of workplace violence,” Corpus said.

Zhao had threatened a coworker in the past, according to court records obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle. In 2013, a roommate and colleague at a San Jose restaurant filed for and was granted a restraining order after telling a judge that Zhao had assaulted and threatened to kill him, the newspaper reported Tuesday. The injunction is no longer in effect.

The San Mateo County Jail listed the pending charges against Zhao as willful and premeditated murder, first-degree attempted murder and firing a powered firearm as “the most violent felonies.”

Zhao was expected to be indicted on Wednesday and was due to make his first court appearance at the Redwood City Hall of Justice at 1:30 pm Wednesday.

In a statement Tuesday, President Joe Biden renewed his call for Congress to ban assault weapons.

“Even as we await more details on these shootings, we know that the scourge of gun violence across the United States requires stronger action,” he said.

News of the Half Moon Bay shooting broke as detectives were still investigating Saturday night’s shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, just east of downtown Los Angeles, which occurred in the midst of the New Year’s Eve celebrations. Nuevo Lunar from the predominantly Asian-American city.

Authorities identified the shooter as Huu Can Tran, 72, and said he fatally shot 10 people and wounded 10 others at the Star Ballroom, where he was a frequent patron. An 11th person died at the hospital from his injuries.

Tran then drove to a second nearby dance hall, but was unable to deal more damage as the club operator took his gun. He fled in a white cargo van.

Police cornered him about 12 hours later in Torrance, south of Los Angeles, and then fatally shot himself.

lethal record

By the time the Los Angeles County coroner released the full list of the Monterey Park victims Tuesday, tributes were pouring in from family and friends. Many victims were regulars at that dance studio, a haven for locals looking to exercise and socialize. In a statement, the family of Valentino Marcos Alvero remembered the Filipino as a loving grandfather and “the soul of any party.”

Among the 11 victims were two fishermen from Taiwan, according to the Taiwanese consulate in Los Angeles, and several Chinese nationals, according to the Chinese consulate.

It ranked as the deadliest mass shooting in Los Angeles County, according to Hilda Solis, a member of the county Board of Supervisors.

By comparison, the 1984 massacre of 21 people at a McDonald’s restaurant in San Diego stands as the largest loss of life in a single shooting in California.

The last two shootings were also notable for the age of the suspects, one in their 60s and one in their 70s.

A database of 185 mass shootings between 1966 and 2022 maintained by the nonprofit Violence Project includes only one carried out by someone 70 or older: a retired miner who killed five people in Kentucky in 1981.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna told reporters Monday that investigators had collected 42 bullet casings and a high-capacity ammunition magazine from the dance studio.

He said a search of the suspect’s mobile home in a gated community for seniors in the city of Hemet, 80 miles east of Los Angeles, turned up a rifle, electronic devices and other evidence indicating Tran was making homemade gun silencers. . Police seized hundreds of rounds of ammunition from the home and a handgun from his vehicle.

Monterey Park Police Chief Scott Wiese said investigators were looking into unconfirmed reports that the violence may have been sparked by jealousy or relationship problems.

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