Amid concerns from some parents and residents in Half Moon Bay over the San Mateo County’s Sheriff Office’s communication during the Jan. 23 mass shooting, Sheriff Christina Corpus said in a public letter she is committed to improvements.
In a Jan. 30 letter to the community, Corpus acknowledged there were parents disappointed in the Sheriff’s Office response, noting there was a breakdown in communication with its partners in the Cabrillo Unified School District. She pointed out that while it did things well in its response, there were areas it could do better, like notifying the schools close to the shooting area immediately and putting schools in a secure campus status.
“Over the past week, we have had numerous conversations with parents, teachers and educational leaders concerning our response to this event,” Corpus said in the letter. “As a result of these conversations, we are committing ourselves, as a department, to strengthening our lines of communication with our with our coastside schools.”
Chunli Zhao, a 66-year-old Half Moon Bay farmworker, is accused of murdered seven in a killing spree in the afternoon of Jan. 23. Zhao is accused of entering Terra California Garden, formerly called Mountain Mushroom Farm, where he worked and shot four people. Terra California Garden is a little over a mile from Half Moon Bay High School. Zhao then drove to a nearby farm, Concord Farms, where he worked previously and killed three more people. He was arrested in the evening at a Half Moon Bay substation.
One resident said people only received one notification from the San Mateo County Alert System Jan. 23, over an hour after the first shooting at the farm, and it went to people within 3 miles of the shooting. The alert mentioned heavy police activity on State Route 92 between Highway 1 and State Route 35, requesting people use other roads. The resident called for clearer communication an active shooter was around and for the alert to go to more people outside the 3-mile radius, with more protection for students. Calls to the Corpus had not been returned by the time of publication.
Sean McPhetridge, Cabrillo Unified School District superintendent, talked with about a dozen parents about the Sheriff’s Office communication in the last week and acknowledged there are always improvements possible.
“My experience working over the years with law enforcement is one where I am very thankful for their partnership and protection of our people, and things don’t always go perfectly,” McPhetridge said. “I believe and trust our law enforcement partners when they say they will continue to debrief and shore up communication.”
McPhetridge felt the Sheriff’s Office had demonstrated it was taking communication improvements seriously, citing daily communication with officers in the last week. He said the Sheriff’s Office has a plan with steps to improve training and to shore up communication channels, although he did not go into details.
McPhetridge noted there are always situations when school administrators have to act without word from other agencies, noting the school had protocol and training in place it followed Jan. 23. The Sheriff’s Office first heard about the shooting at around 2:22 p.m. McPhetridge ordered a secure campus status in the district at around 3:15 p.m. after hearing from a principal about the shooting, with the Sheriff’s Office calling the district around 4:15 p.m. saying they could release students. He spoke with Corpus after 5 p.m.
The shooting shocked the small town of 11,000 residents and displaced 37 people, including 11 children, making up 18 families. The shooting victims are Zhishen Liu, 73, Aixiang Zhang, 74, Qizhong Cheng, 66, Jingzhi Lu, 64, Marciano Martinez Jimenez, 50, Yetao Bing, 43, and Jose Romero Perez, 38.
San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools Nancy Magee said in a letter to parents a day after the shooting that countywide school safety protocol was used to keep students safe, with county leaders keeping her informed so she could keep school administrators aware of events and when to release students. She noted the Cabrillo Unified School District was deploying resources to help students. McPhetridge said there would likely be residual trauma because of the event, mobilizing the school to bring counselors and other mental health specialists to every campus.
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