HALF MOON BAY (California) ― A deadly gun rampage at a pair of northern California mushroom farms likely stemmed from a workplace grievance, authorities said yesterday, as new details emerged about the latest of two back-to-back mass shootings that claimed 18 lives and horrified the nation.
In apparently unrelated acts of mass murder, 11 people were shot to death on Saturday night at a Los Angeles-area dance hall frequented mostly by older patrons of Asian descent, and seven were slain on Monday in an attack on farm workers, many of them immigrants, in the seaside town of Half Moon Bay near San Francisco.
The suspects in both attacks were men of retirement age, much older than typical perpetrators of deadly mass shootings that have become all too commonplace in the United States.
Authorities said the two men, Huu Can Tran, 72, and Chunli Zhao, 66, each used a semi-automatic pistol. The victims of both attacks came from immigrant communities. Tran fired on ballroom dancers celebrating the Lunar New Year in Monterey Park near Los Angeles, and Zhao sprayed bullets at farm workers of Hispanic and Asian origin 380 miles north in Half Moon Bay.
Tran tried to attack a second dance studio on Saturday night but was disarmed without firing a shot in a struggle with the club’s operator. The next morning, he shot himself to death in the driver’s seat of his getaway vehicle as police closed in.
Zhao was arrested on Monday evening outside a sheriff’s station where authorities said he had driven shortly after the Half Moon Bay shootings, apparently to surrender.
As of yesterday, authorities said they had yet to determine precisely what sparked either shooting. Circumstances surrounding the Half Moon Bay carnage pointed to some type of work-related disgruntlement, officials said.
“All of the evidence we have points to this being the instance of workplace violence,” San Mateo Sheriff Christina Corpus told reporters on Tuesday. She said Zhao had been employed at Mountain Mushroom Farm, one of two sites he is accused of attacking. The other, Concord Farms, is about a mile away.
That theory seemed buttressed by court records, obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle, showing that a restaurant co-worker had obtained a restraining order against Zhao after accusing Zhao of assault and death threats, the newspaper reported on Tuesday. The court order is no longer in effect.
San Mateo County jail records showed Zhao booked on suspicion of premeditated murder, attempted murder and firearms offenses. He was expected to be formally charged on Wednesday, when he was due to make his first court appearance in Redwood City.
Call for ‘stronger action’
The latest spate of lethal gun violence in California was the worst in decades in a state known for relatively strict firearms regulations. US President Joe Biden yesterday renewed his call for Congress to pass a national ban on assault weapons.
“Even as we await further details on these shootings, we know the scourge of gun violence across America requires stronger action,” he said.
News of the Half Moon Bay shooting broke as detectives were still investigating the Saturday night shooting at Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, where Tran had been a longtime patron.
By the time the Los Angeles County Coroner released the full list of Monterey Park victims on Tuesday, tributes from relatives and friends were pouring in. 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 man as a loving grandfather and “the life of any party.”
Among the 11 victims were two fishermen from Taiwan, according to the Taiwanese consulate in Los Angeles, and multiple Chinese citizens, according to the Chinese consulate.
It ranked as the deadliest mass shooting ever 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 greatest loss of life from a single California shooting.
On Monday, Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna told reporters investigators had collected 42 bullet casings and a large-capacity ammunition magazine from the Star Ballroom, attesting to the firepower unleashed at the dance studio.
He said a search of the suspect’s mobile home in the town of Hemet, 80 miles east of Los Angeles, turned up a rifle, electronic devices and other evidence to indicate that Tran was manufacturing homemade weapons silencers. Police seized hundreds of rounds of ammunition from the dwelling 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 issues.
Adam Hood, who rented a home from Tran in the Los Angeles area, told Reuters his landlord complained that other dance studio patrons were talking behind his back.
“He was distrustful of the people at the studio, angry and distrustful,” Hood said. “I think he just had enough.” ― Reuters