Workers sue mushroom farm over 2023 mass shooting that left seven dead

An exterior view of the scene near a shooting in Half Moon Bay, Calif.
The scene near a mass shooting in Half Moon Bay in 2023.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

A Half Moon Bay mushroom farm failed to protect the workers living there from a gunman who targeted them in 2023, resulting in a deadly mass shooting, according to a pair of lawsuits filed against the employer.

Prosecutors have charged Chunli Zhao, 67, in the deaths of seven people who were fatally shot at California Terra Garden and Concord Farm, two places where Zhao had worked. Prosecutors allege the deadly rampage was sparked after Zhao was told by a supervisor that he’d have to foot the $100 bill to fix a damaged forklift.

Zhao, who is awaiting trial, is expected to appear in court this month. But a pair of lawsuits filed Wednesday allege that Xianmin Guan, one of the owners of California Terra Garden, failed not just to provide decent housing to its workers but also to protect them from a co-worker who had a violent past.


“There were red flags that showed the shooter had a violent history, including from people he lived with,” said Duffy Magilligan, an attorney representing Pedro Felix Romero Perez, who survived the rampage despite being shot five times. “There was also a history of violent activity at the farm.”

Magilligan and his law firm also filed a second lawsuit on behalf of the family of Perez’s brother, Jose Romero Perez, who was killed in the shooting.

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Guan and representatives of California Terra Garden did not immediately respond to messages requesting comment about the lawsuits.

Pedro Felix Romero Perez had been living and working at California Terra Gaden since 2021, Magilligan said. His older brother, Jose Romero Perez, later migrated from Oaxaca, Mexico, to Half Moon Bay and joined his brother at the farm. The elder Perez left behind his wife and four children in Oaxaca, Magilligan said, for whom he was the primary means of support.

The two brothers chose to live at the farm, paying rent to its owners, because they didn’t own a car.

The lawsuits reiterate some of the claims that were made after the Jan. 23, 2023, shooting left seven farmworkers dead — that farmworkers were living in deplorable, makeshift homes at one of the farms where they were targeted by a gunman.


“The brothers and other farmworkers’ homes had floors made of plywood, walls covered in plastic, and makeshift wood-burning stoves for heating food,” one of the suits alleges.

Beyond providing inadequate housing, the lawsuit alleges, the owners of California Terra Garden, Inc., namely CTG and Guan, “failed to adequately secure their premises against reasonably foreseeable criminal acts.”

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The lawsuit points to another shooting that occurred at the farm seven months before the mass shooting. During the July 1, 2022, incident, a man tried to break into one of the trailers and threatened to kill the farmworker living there and his family, firing one shot into the trailer, the lawsuit says.

The suit also claims that the owners of the farm were aware of Chunli Zhao’s violent history, including a 2013 restraining order filed against him by his roommate. The roommate claimed Zhao tried to suffocate him with a pillow during one attack, and days later threatened to use a knife to cut the roommate’s head if Zhao couldn’t come back to work.

Despite being aware of the incidents, Magilligan said, the farm took no steps to protect workers, leading to the mass shooting.

According to the suits, Zhao first shot a farmworker at California Terra Garden, then shot and killed a supervisor there.


The 67-year-old then started to make his way to the farm encampment, where several of the workers lived.

“Zhao faced no obstacles or deterrents on route to the encampment,” the lawsuit states.

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Zhao went inside the trailer the Perez brothers shared and shot both of them, the lawsuit alleges. Magilligan said Pedro is still recovering from his wounds and has been unable to return to work.

Prosecutors allege that Zhao continued on his shooting rampage, driving two miles to Concord Farms and targeting more people whom he allegedly held long-running grudges against.

After the shooting, the farm was cited by Cal/OSHA for 22 violations, including failing to establish procedures to identify hazards posed by an active shooter and evaluate dangers posed by workers threatening physical violence.

“Every landowner has a duty to provide protection to the people who are on their property, and that applies to landlords like this mushroom farm,” Magilligan said. “The evidence of the Cal OSHA investigation just goes to show the extent to which the farm wasn’t doing anything to protect their workers.”