Half Moon Bay, ‘Our Little Town,’ Faces a Shattered Sense of Security

The coastal town of about 11,000 people tried to make sense of a deadly shooting that left seven people dead.

A white sheriff’s vehicle parked on a neighborhood street.
A San Mateo County Sheriff’s deputy kept watch at a perimeter checkpoint on Tuesday near the scene of one of the shootings in Half Moon Bay, Calif.Credit...Jim Wilson/The New York Times

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. — The coastal community of Half Moon Bay, Calif., on Tuesday was grappling with a shattered sense of safety and normalcy after the shooting deaths of seven people a day earlier, including four at a mushroom farm and three more nearby at an agricultural nursery.

“Half Moon Bay is as close to small-town America as we get in the Bay Area,” and feels far from hectic San Francisco and Silicon Valley just to the north, said State Assemblyman Marc Berman, whose district includes Half Moon Bay, in a press briefing on Tuesday afternoon. “When you get here, you feel like you’re a million miles away from all those problems. Yesterday, all those problems came crashing down.”

In Half Moon Bay on Tuesday, children played outside at schools where flags flew at half-staff. There was caution tape blocking off shops in a strip mall, where the gunman had been arrested. A vase of flowers had been left outside a community center where witnesses to the shootings had gathered the day before.

Lisa Warner-Carey, the pastor at Community United Methodist Church in Half Moon Bay, said the effects of the shootings were likely to ripple throughout the tightknit town of about 11,000 people, which, she added, has no experience with that kind of gun violence.

“I imagine no parent sent their kid to school today without thinking twice about it,” she said. “To have this kind of violence come so close to home will always kind of change the way you see the world a little bit.”

Fatima Machado, who was working in the parish office of Our Lady of the Pillar in Half Moon Bay, said the town seemed unusually empty, with almost no cars on the road. She thought people were staying home after the shock of the shootings.

“I couldn’t sleep last night,” said Ms. Machado, 70. “Our little town made the map, not in a good way.”

She said that her 87-year-old mother, who lives with her, insisted that they turn on the alarm system for their house on Monday night. They have lived in Half Moon Bay since 1968, and it was the first time they had used it. In Half Moon Bay, almost everyone knows one another, she said.

“It’s just so surreal that this happened in our little town,” she said. “You see it on the news. Monterey Park, Oakland — but those are big places. Not Half Moon Bay.”

One of Half Moon Bay’s most popular events each year is its annual pumpkin festival, which draws as many as 100,000 people in the fall. “Usually in this same parking lot, we celebrate a pumpkin festival, the weighing of the biggest pumpkin,” said Joaquín Jiménez, the vice mayor of Half Moon Bay, during the press briefing. “Today we’re here for a different reason.”

Mr. Jiménez said he expects farmworkers are going to be feeling fearful about returning to work. “This is something that’s going to change how we do things in our community,” he said. “We never thought it would happen in Half Moon Bay — a beautiful community, a coastal community — but it happened.”

Ms. Warner-Carey said the shootings added to the city’s trauma. A series of destructive storms have recently battered Half Moon Bay, leaving many families displaced from their homes.

“We’ve been hit with just one emergency after the other,” she said. “In one way it makes us all pull together, but in another way people are tired.”