Farmworker who survived mass shooting at Northern California mushroom farm sues company and owner

HALF MOON BAY, California — A migrant farm worker who survived a mass shooting at a mushroom farm in Northern California last year has filed a lawsuit against the farm and one of its owners. They say they failed to protect him from the co-worker authorities say committed the murders, the worker and his co-workers. Lawyers said this on Friday.

Pedro Romero Perez, 24, was inside the shipping container that served as his and his brother’s home at California Terra Gardens in Half Moon Bay when authorities said Chunli Zhao burst in and opened fire, killing his brother Jose Romero Perez and shot five times. including once to the face.

Prosecutors say Zhao killed three other coworkers at the farm on Jan. 23, 2023, after his supervisor demanded he pay a $100 repair bill for damage to his work forklift.

They say he then drove to Concord Farms, a mushroom farm where he was fired in 2015, and shot and killed three former colleagues. Zhao pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in February.

Pedro Romero Perez’s lawsuit and another lawsuit by his brother’s wife and children against California Terra Garden, Inc. and Xianmin Guan, one of the owners, say there was a documented history of violence at the farm and that the company took no action to protect workers after another shooting on the property involving a then-manager in July 2022.

“All landlords have a duty to protect their tenants from the criminal acts of people who enter the property,” said Donald Magilligan, an attorney representing Pedro Romero Perez and his brother’s family. “And California Terra Gardens did nothing to protect Pedro or his family. brother or the other victims of that shooting.”

Guan did not immediately respond to a phone message from The Associated Press seeking comment. No phone number or email address could be found for California Terra Garden.

According to the complaints, the company knew Zhao had a history of violence. In 2013, a Santa Clara County court issued a temporary restraining order against Zhao after he tried to suffocate his ranch roommate with a pillow. Two days later, Zhao threatened the same person, saying he could use a knife to cut off his head, according to the complaints.

Zhao told investigators that he had slept with the loaded gun under his pillow for two years and that he bought it because he was being bullied, according to the lawsuits.

The murders shed light on the substandard housing that the farms rented to their workers. After the shooting, San Mateo County Supervisor Ray Mueller visited the housing at California Terra Garden, where some employees lived with their families, and described it as “deplorable” and “heartbreaking.”

Muller, who represents Half Moon Bay and other agricultural towns, posted photos on social media of a shipping container and sheds being used as homes.

Pedro Romero Perez migrated to California from Oaxaca, Mexico and lived and worked in California Terra Garden as of 2021. His brother Jose later joined him and they rented a shipping container from the farm that had no running water, no insulation and no sanitary space to prepare food, the lawsuit said.

He said at a news conference Friday that he has not been able to work since the shooting and that he and his brother’s family in Mexico are still struggling.

“I had two bullets in my stomach, one in my face, one in my arm and a bullet in my back,” Romero Perez said. “And I’m still healing. I’m still in pain and still trying to get better.”


Rodriguez reported from San Francisco.