The farm worker who is thought to have killed seven people in a shooting spree at two farms near Half Moon Bay, California, admitted to doing it in a jailhouse interview with local media on Thursday. He said he was sorry for what he did.
Zhao Chunli, who is 66 years old, talked to KNTV reporter Janelle Wang for the first time since the shootings that shocked the small coastal town south of San Francisco. Zhao is charged with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. In an interview with Wang at the San Mateo County Jail in Redwood City, California, Zhao spoke Mandarin for about 15 minutes. Nobody was allowed to bring a camera into the jail.
Wang asked Zhao if he was sorry about killing the people. He gave a one-word answer: “Yes.” Wang said, “He says he has a mental illness and has been struggling with it for a while.”
“He says he can’t make out what’s going on and wants to see a doctor,” the reporter said. “He said he’s not thinking straight.”
When Wang asked Zhao if the reports that he was bullied and mistreated at work by his coworkers were true, Zhao told the reporter that they were. Wang said that Zhao also said that he was “forced to work long hours, from early in the morning until sometimes 9 at night.”
Wang said, “He was paid for those extra hours, but when he complained about the long days on the farm, he says his supervisor just ignored him.”
Authorities say that Zhao used a Ruger semiautomatic handgun that he had bought legally during the shootings at Mountain Mushroom Farm and Concord Farms. Zhao, a Chinese citizen who has lived in the U.S. for at least ten years, told a journalist in San Francisco that he has a green card and bought the gun in 2021. “He had no trouble buying the gun at a store,” the journalist said.
Zhao was caught a few hours after the shooting on Monday when he drove his SUV to the local sheriff’s office. He told Wang how he drove to the Half Moon Bay sheriff’s station to turn himself in. Zhao waited in his car for about two hours until an officer saw his car and started taking pictures of his licence plate. This is what KNTV says happened when Zhao didn’t see anyone in the front lobby of the substation.
“He was sitting there and thought, “Yes, it’s me. Please put me in jail right now,'” Wang said.
The jailhouse interview aired one day after prosecutors charged Zhao with murder for a massacre that police called “workplace violence.” Zhao lived and worked at the first farm that was attacked. It used to be called Mountain Mushroom Farm, but California Terra Garden bought it last year. Prosecutors said that Zhao had worked at Concord Farms, which was the second place he tried to break into. This week, the sheriff of San Mateo County, Christina Corpus, said that Zhao is “fully cooperating” with the investigation.
The names and ages of six people who died this week were released by the San Mateo Coroner’s Office. They were Zhishen Liu, 73, Qizhong Cheng, 66, Marciano Martinez Jimenez, 50, Yetao Bing, 43, Aixiang Zhang, 74, and Jingzhi Lu, 64. The document that charged Zhao named Jose Romero Perez as the seventh person who was killed. Zhao is being charged with trying to kill Pedro Romero Perez, the person who was shot and hurt.
Zhao could get life in prison or the death penalty if he is found guilty of all charges, said San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe in front of the courthouse in Redwood City on Wednesday.
At the end of his interview in jail, Zhao told Wang that he lives in Half Moon Bay with his wife. Zhao told the reporter that he has no idea where his wife is and can’t reach her. He also said that his 40-year-old daughter lives in China and that he hasn’t talked to her since the massacre on Monday.
Wang said, “He doesn’t know if she knows what’s going on or not.”
This report was put together with help from Lisa Bonos, Joshua Partlow, and Joanna Slater.