Seven people were shot dead this week in the small town of Aguanga, California, where police discovered a large illegal cannabis growing operation.
All seven of the victims were Laotian, while over 20 people appeared to live on the property, according to local law enforcement officials.
Police were initially responding to a 911 call at the property after the caller reported an assault with a deadly weapon. Authorities encountered six bodies at the ranch, while the seventh victim, a woman, was still alive when they arrived on the scene. However, she died shortly upon arrival at the hospital.
Investigators described the scene in Aguanga as an “obvious large-scale illegal marijuana processing center.” Evidence included hundreds of marijuana plants, a greenhouse, and over 1,000 pounds of cannabis. The street value of the marijuana found at the property is estimated at over $5 million.
“This was not a small operation. This is a very organized-crime type of operation,” Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said.
Aguanga and the surrounding area are the sites of many illegal growing operations despite cannabis having been legal in California for years. According to some estimates, the black market for marijuana is at least three times the size of its legal counterpart, which represents the largest legal market in the world.
High taxes on legal weed are the main driving force behind consumers still opting to buy marijuana from street dealers. Furthermore, aside from California’s large cities, most counties in the state have opted out of legal cannabis activity, meaning residents only have access to product from the illegal market.
No suspects have been identified in the shooting yet, while the sheriff called the deaths “an isolated incident” which poses no threat to the general public in Aguanga.
“We believe at this time that there were multiple suspects. 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,” the sheriff told reporters at a news conference.