Zhao Chunli, the suspect now charged with killing seven people on Monday at two mushroom farms in Half Moon Bay, admitted to the murders in a jailhouse interview with NBC Bay Area reporter Janelle Wang on Thursday.
Wang says she spoke with Zhao in Mandarin earlier today, a day after he was arraigned in a Redwood City court on seven counts of first-degree murder.
"He was very calm. I told him who I was, and he was willing to meet with me and speak with me," Wang says. "He also seemed a little bit anxious. More like had questions about the procedure, the process, what happens in jail, what happens next in terms of the legal process."
Wang says she asked Zhao about shooting eight people on Monday, seven of whom are dead, and "He said he did it," Zhao says.
She goes on to explain, translating and relaying Zhao's words, "He felt that he had undergone years of bullying, he had lots of concerns, long work hours, overworked, and he brought those up, and he says those were not addressed."
Other sources have reported, via the police and witnesses, that a half hour before the killings began, Zhao had brought up complaints about his treatment, or the working conditions, with a man he considered his boss — a fellow Chinese immigrant. That man was reportedly the first victim shot, and two fellow workers at California Terra Gardens, sisters Erlin and Miriam Ortiz, told Bay Area News Group that they witnessed the shooting, and that Zhao had shouted something at the man in Mandarin before firing his gun.
He then, they said, was smiling and laughing maniacally as he hopped on a forklift and drove to shoot the man's wife in her trailer. The wife, the sisters say, was 64-year-old Jingzhi Lu, who worked alongside Erlin Ortiz packing mushrooms.
In Zhao's interview today with NBC Bay Area, he apparently spoke of the possibility that he suffered from mental illness.
Reporter Janelle Wang says he told her he's likely had mental illness for some time, and "On Monday, he was not in his right mind."
Zhao also described his actions after the killings on Monday, telling Wang that he drove directly to the Sheriff's Department substation in Half Moon Bay to turn himself in. But when he looked through the windows there was no one there, so he sat in his car and waited for two hours. He confirmed to Wang that while sitting in the car he wrote a goodbye note to his wife. It was only later that he saw cars and people gathering in the parking lot, and he says he looked through his window at them and said, "OK, you can arrest me now."
See the full NBC Bay Area report below.
Zhao told Wang that he has been in the U.S. for 11 years — and we know that he first lived in a roommate situation with fellow restaurant workers in San Jose, one of whom filed a restraining order against him after some violence and threats in 2013. He and his wife have a 40-year-old daughter back in China, he says.
Top image: Zhao Chunli appears for his arraignment in San Mateo Superior Court on January 25, 2023 in Redwood City, California. Zhao is charged with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder in Monday's shootings at two separate locations. (Photo by Shae Hammond-Pool/Getty Images)