Elliot Splits / AP
Seven people were killed in a shooting at an illegal marijuana grow in Southern California that local authorities say bears organized crime marks.
Riverside County Sheriff’s MPs responded to an emergency call Monday morning about a lethal weapon attack and gunfire. When they arrived at the large property in the remote mountainous region of Aguanga, they found six people who had died from gunshot wounds. A seventh person later died in a local hospital.
Everyone on the scene – both the victims and the potential witnesses – were Laotians, Sheriff Chad Bianco told reporters on Tuesday.
More than 20 people lived on the property with several buildings. The Associated Press described the location where the shootings took place as “a shabby two-bedroom house” with three cars parked outside. A black tarpaulin stretched over stakes in the fenced-in back yard indicated, according to the intelligence service, a growing business.
When MPs arrived, they found hundreds of marijuana plants as well as more than 1,000 pounds of processed marijuana with a street value of $ 1 million to over $ 5 million, Bianco said. The MPs also found equipment for making hash oil.
“This wasn’t just a situation where they happened to grow marijuana,” Bianco said. This was “a major organized crime type operation”.
“Marijuana is not a victimless crime,” added the sheriff. “These illegal operations are extremely dangerous.” Monday’s 911 call was the eighth marijuana-related murder call that the Riverside County Sheriff’s office responded to earlier this year, Bianco said, killing 14 total.
Several vehicles on the property have been registered in various states, so local law enforcement officials have asked federal investigators to help with the investigation.
Local authorities are working to identify suspects in the shootings and have asked anyone with information to complete their online tip form.
The retail sale of recreational marijuana was legalized in California in 2018, and this legal market is strictly regulated by the state. The illegal market is now flourishing. In November, California authorities announced they had confiscated more than $ 1.5 billion in illegal marijuana from 345 acreages in fiscal 2019.
In February, MPs in the Aguanga area confiscated nearly 10,000 plants and 411 pounds of processed marijuana and firearms.
Bianco said his office will likely step up enforcement against illegal marijuana growing areas. And he noted that the place where the bodies were found was in a remote area, but illegal growers are also popping up in residential areas.
“Imagine if this was in one of our populous cities, with kids right next door,” said Bianco.