Menlo Teachers “Helpless” in Aftermath of Half Moon Bay Shooting
March 6, 2023
On Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, farmworker and Half Moon Bay resident Chunli Zhao opened fire on two local mushroom farms. While Zhao has since been arrested by the Half Moon Bay police and now faces multiple counts of murder, his actions left seven dead and one injured.
When Menlo English teacher and Half Moon Bay resident Whitney Newton got a text from her husband on Jan. 23 saying Highway 92 was shut down, she thought nothing of it at first. The recent storms had caused 92 to be shut down for two weeks, so she assumed the storm damage had blocked the highway again.
However, everything changed when Newton got another message from her friend four minutes later saying there was an active shooter on the loose and at least four casualties. Another ten minutes later, Newton got a text from her daughter’s school saying that they were now on lockdown.
“My initial thoughts were I have to get to my daughter,” Newton said. She left Menlo early and rushed to her daughter’s school. “I just needed to get over there,” she said.
Dean of Teaching and Learning Bridget Longust also lives in Half Moon Bay with her husband, journalism and yearbook teacher Tripp Robbins. Like Newton, Longust was in a meeting at Menlo when she got a notification from the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, around 4:30 p.m., alerting her that there was an active shooter near Highway 92.
Longust drove home immediately, concerned about her husband and other teachers who might have been driving home on Highway 92. “The whole time my mind [was] spinning and like ‘what is happening, what is going on,'” Longust said.
Only hours after the shooter was apprehended, the Half Moon Bay community sprang into action. According to Longust, a group of three of her neighbors posted on Nextdoor, a neighborhood communication app, asking for people to buy groceries for the families of the victims. Longust immediately drove to her nearest Safeway to purchase some items for the families. She was both shocked and touched to see the store occupied by her fellow residents shopping for the families. “If something happens to one of you, something happens to all of you,” she said.
Additionally, there was a vigil held the Friday after the shooting that many Half Moon Bay residents attended. According to Longust, hundreds of people poured onto the streets, all paying their respects to the victims.
Newton didn’t feel comfortable attending the vigil with her 5-year-old daughter, who didn’t understand what had happened. “I didn’t know how to do that for my daughter; I didn’t know how to explain to her exactly what had happened,” Newton said.
Newton explained that because her daughter didn’t understand what had happened, she and her husband weren’t scared to take her daughter to the school next but are still left feeling uneasy after the shooting.
Newton has also begun writing an essay about the shooting that she shared with her Art of the Essay senior English elective class. “[This essay is] just kind of putting you into the shoes of someone who is a teacher and a mother who is thinking about these things a lot right now,” Newton said. While Newton is normally the one reading and editing her students’ essays, she hopes that being vulnerable with them will help her through the healing process.
Although Newton is unsure of whether she plans to publish her essay or not, she still wants to see change to gun legislation on a national level. As both a teacher and mother, the abundance of mass shootings is a pressing concern for her. “Being a teacher and having done those drills just reminds me of how sort of conditioned we are to accept schools, which are supposed to be learning places, places for children, as potential sites of violence,” she explained.