Half Moon Bay reflects on what changed 1 year after farmworkers killed in mass shooting

Wednesday, January 24, 2024
Half Moon Bay reflects on changes 1 year after mass shooting
It's been a year since seven farmworkers were killed in a mass shooting in Half Moon Bay, and the community is still recovering.

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (KGO) -- It's been a year since seven farmworkers were killed in a mass shooting in Half Moon Bay, and the community is still recovering.

"There is still a lot of stress. There is still a lot fear. People should talk about the shooting. People talk about healing that is going to be years before we can say we healed from it. That may never happen," Half Moon Bay Mayor Joaquin Jimenez.

On Tuesday, one of the survivors - Pedro Romero Perez - spoke to a group of community leaders reflecting back on leaving his house on Jan, 23, 2023, unaware of the tragedy that was hours from happening at the mushroom farm where he worked.

"Mi hermano Jose Romero ya no esta conmigo. Ya no esta conmigo. Me siento muy triste pero le agradesco todo los que me estan apoyando," said Pedro Romero Perez.

RELATED: Half Moon Bay mass shooting: Suspect indicted by grand jury, appears in court 1 year after killing 7

Getting emotional, Pedro said he was sad and repeated that his brother is no longer with us. His brother Jose Romero Perez was one of the victims.

"It's a bizarre moment. It's because we remember the people that we lost. The survivors that survived the tragedy a year ago, at the same time there are some push policy changes. We are working on getting people dignified lives," said Enrique Bazan, ALAS board member.

After the shooting, farmworkers' deplorable housing conditions were highlighted leading the county to take action.

"The county actually put a housing task force together right after the shooting, it was a group of county staff that went around the county visiting every farm where housing is provided to make sure housing was adequate for farmworkers," said Mayor Jimenez.

RELATED: Half Moon Bay mushroom farms cited for workplace safety violations after Jan. mass shooting

California has cited two Bay Area mushroom farms for health and safety violations and proposed more than $165,000 in potential fines.

Survivors of the shooting who lived at the mushroom farms where the shootings took place don't have permanent housing still. That's set to change in the fall.

Recently San Mateo County received $5 million in state funding to pay for 28 housing units for farmworkers. Several units will go towards the survivors of the shooting.

"I've been very pleased to see that the city and county are working on creating more housing units that are affordable for extremely low-income workers farmworkers to be able to own and rent. They are working on senior housing that no longer can work and can't live in the farmworker housing," said Julian Castro, CEO of the Latino Community Foundation.

Another plan that is still in the works is the purchase of an old nursery that will be transformed into farmworker housing.

RELATED: In wake of tragedy, 50-acre lot to be turned into Half Moon Bay farmworker housing and co-op

"The county approved to purchase a new property in Half Moon Bay where there is a future location for farmworker housing and other things like farming co-ops and businesses, distribution center," said Mayor Jimenez.

Aside from housing, farmworkers have sensed a shift in attitudes in the community.

"Farmworkers now feel comfortable to make a 911 call. That is one of the things we wanted," said Mayor Jimenez.

"Before, the farmworkers were out there and now people are talking about bringing them as part of who we are as they are becoming our neighbors. That has changed," said Bazan.

VIDEO: Memorial held for Half Moon Bay mass shooting victims

One year after the mass shooting, dozens of Half Moon Bay armworkers and community members gathered for a memorial Tuesday evening.

Tuesday evening, dozens of farmworkers and community members gathered at ALAS for a memorial.

The nonprofit and its colorful casita has become a hub and resource for survivors within the isolated farm-working community.

Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga is the founder and executive director of ALAS.

"We see the beauty in the work that they do but this moment marks a tragedy, a heartache, a heart break," Hernandez-Arriaga said.

Every week, survivors visit ALAS.

VIDEO: 'Hidden Crisis: Tragedy in Half Moon Bay' | Watch full special

The mass shooting in Half Moon Bay exposed the deplorable living conditions that some farmworkers endured. Now, officials are looking for a solution.

"We will always be here and we stand here strong. And we stand here with open doors and arms for the community to heal and grow together and we will be here," Hernandez-Arriaga said.

During the memorial, a memorial from President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden dated Tuesday was read aloud that showed their support for the victims and their families.

As a tribute to make sure the community will never forget, an art piece that now stands in front of ALAS was unveiled.

The artist from Redwood City, Fernando Escartiz titled the piece 'Corazón del Campesino' heart of the farmworker.

Escartiz describes the piece as a Mexican Milagro, a religious charm, but on a much larger scale.

RELATED: How Half Moon Bay farmworkers are healing from mass shooting tragedy through music

The heart with wings symbolize immigrants, and the fire represents the hard work and passion farmworkers have.

Within the heart is a place to put live flowers to symbolize keeping the memory alive.

ABC7 News spoke with one farmworker, Vicente, who said the loss of his fellow companions sent him into a nervous shock.

He said he doesn't even have the words to express how good he feels now after all the support different organizations have offered this past year.

All of the victims of the shootings were Chinese and Latino immigrants.

The night may have started with mariachi music, but it ended with a traditional Chinese instrument called the Guzheng -- a symbol that the tragedy bridged two cultures together.

Now Streaming 24/7 Click Here

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live