Seven people were fatally shot on Monday at a rural home in Southern California that authorities say served as an illicit marijuana cultivation operation. Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said at a press conference on Tuesday that the property in Aguanga, an unincorporated area northeast of San Diego, was a “major organized crime type operation.”
Deputies responded to the home early Monday morning after dispatchers received a call to 911 and took reports of shots fired and an assault with a deadly weapon occurring at the property. After arriving at the scene, deputies discovered a woman with gunshot wounds. The unidentified woman was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where she died of her injuries. While searching the property, sheriff’s deputies discovered six more gunshot victims who had all died at the scene.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Bianco said that the investigation into the mass killing would likely lead to multiple other states or perhaps abroad.
“All of the people who were on-site that were potential witnesses or the victims, were Laotians,” Bianco said, although he did not elaborate further.
Deputies Find 1,000 Pounds Of Pot
Bianco said that deputies searching the property, which had more than 20 people living on it, discovered “several hundred” live cannabis plants and more than 1,000 pounds of processed marijuana. The site also had several separate spaces for cultivating marijuana, areas for processing the harvest, and a cannabis oil extraction facility. Authorities estimated the street value of the seized marijuana at up to $5 million.
“This was not a small operation,” Bianco said. “This is a very organized-crime type of an operation.”
The property had housing for as many as 20 people and several vehicles registered in other states were also found on the site. Bianco offered few details on the progress of the investigation.
“We believe at this time that there were multiple suspects,” he said. “We are still processing the scene, we are still processing our witnesses and potential witnesses for any information that they may be able to provide us that can lead us to the identification of suspects.”
“Marijuana is not a victimless crime,” Bianco added. “These illegal operations are extremely dangerous.”
Illicit Market Persists Despite Legalization
California legalized the production and sale of cannabis for use by adults in 2016 and Riverside County, where Aguanga is located, authorized commercial activity for licensed businesses in 2018. But with many other jurisdictions passing bans on cannabis businesses and high barriers to entry where they are allowed, California’s illicit marijuana market continues to thrive. But operating outside of the law can be a dangerous business.
“This risk is inherent in the underground market,” said Jerrod Kiloh, the owner of a licensed cannabis dispensary and a member of the industry trade group the United Cannabis Business Association. “When you have money and high returns, people want to take that from you.”
Kiloh added that illegal operations with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of product that also frequently have large quantities of cash on-site make prime targets for criminals.
“That’s why the violence becomes worse and worse,” he said.