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 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 mushroom 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.
“It was a really joyous place,” she said.
The workers who spoke to AP said they have been working two or three hours a day since Tuesday harvesting mushrooms, cleaning them, weighing them and packaging them because they need money to pay rent. They said they have received a bit of financial help and offers of psychological support from local farmworker advocacy organizations.
Another farmworker who spoke to AP had called out sick the day of the shooting and did not witness it. But he recalled previously working with Zhao and said he remains fearful that he could be released from jail and return to the farm.
“I try to forget what happened, but it’s like I’m always carrying this fear in me,” he said.
The killings came shortly after San Mateo County was pummeled by heavy rains that put farmworkers out of work for days, exacerbating the hard lives of many who live in crowded conditions and make only enough to pay bills and rent.
The third farmworker who spoke to AP said he and his wife have been trying to get therapy to process witnessing the shooting.
“Being there is not easy,” he said of the farm. “My wife doesn’t feel well. We have mixed feelings. I don’t know how to explain it, how to process what happened.”
The man has worked on farms in Half Moon Bay for the past decade and described the struggle that he and others face doing grueling work with pay that barely covers their living expenses.