Imperial Valley Press

Half Moon Bay farmworker­s processing shooting as jobs resume


HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (AP) — Barely a week after their colleagues were fatally shot, workers were back picking mushrooms at a farm in northern California. They say they have practical and emotional reasons for such a quick return -- they need to earn a living and find strength being with people who have experience­d the same trauma.

“We all feel like we need each other; we feel like the people at the farm are the ones who really understand you right now,” said one worker at the farm in Half Moon Bay who asked that her name not be used.

She and two other workers spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they are traumatize­d and do not want the attention that would come if their names are publicized.

The woman recently started working at Concord Farms, one of two farms where seven people were fatally shot on Jan. 23 by a man officials said was a disgruntle­d worker. The woman recalled how she had nicknamed two of her older Chinese coworkers abuela and abuelo — Spanish for grandmothe­r and grandfathe­r — and developed a kinship with them despite language barriers.

The couple, Aixiang Zhang, 74, and Zhishen Liu, 73, were two of the three people killed at Concord Farms along with the farm’s manager, Marciano Martinez Jimenez. The couple lived on the farm, the workers said.

The young woman wondered why the two were engaged in such hard labor at their age. Though they struggled to communicat­e through language, with the woman speaking Spanish and the couple speaking Mandarin, they got to know each other by pointing, signing and laughing and felt like a big family, she said. She credited them with helping her learn the ropes of harvesting mushrooms through gestures and a translatio­n app on her phone.

The woman was away from the farm’s greenhouse­s when the shooting occurred but returned shortly after to find their bodies on the ground.

Prosecutor­s say the suspect in the case, Chunli Zhao, began the shooting rampage at California Terra

Garden, located 2 miles (1.5 kilometers) from Concord Farms, after his supervisor there demanded he pay a $100 repair bill for his forklift after he was involved in a crash with a co-worker’s bulldozer.

They say Zhao caught up with his supervisor talking to the co-worker who had operated the bulldozer and shot and killed them both. They say he then fatally shot the supervisor’s wife and shot and killed another co-worker and shot and wounded that co-worker’s brother.

Those killed were Qizhong Cheng, Yetao Bing, Jingzhi Lu and Jose Romero Perez.

Authoritie­s say Zhao then drove to Concord Farms, where he worked until 2015, and began shooting there.

Zhao, 66, has been charged with seven counts of murder and one of attempted murder. He is set to be arraigned on Feb. 16. Eric Hove, Zhao’s attorney, did not immediatel­y return an email Friday seeking comment.

Half Moon Bay is a small coastal community in San Mateo County, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of San Francisco, made up of rolling hills dotted with farms and beaches that attract troves of weekend visitors. Most of the farmworker­s in the area are Latino and the two mushrooms farms are among the few that employ Chinese workers, advocates have said.

The workers at Concord Farms said Zhao worked there for about four years until he was fired eight years ago. Aaron Tung, the farm’s owner, did not immediatel­y respond to an email Friday seeking comment.

The young woman said that the slain Chinese couple would often give her eggs, chickens or vegetables to take home.

“Grandma, and also grandpa, were so patient with me; they would teach me,” the young woman said, tears filling her eyes. “They always helped me and were very good to me.”

She said that before tragedy struck at the small farm that employs about 15 workers, the work atmosphere was so collegial that it felt like a family. The workers said they like working there because the owner gives them the flexibilit­y to leave during the workday if they have to.

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