Seven people were found shot dead at an illegal marijuana growing operation in rural Southern California early Monday, authorities said.
Riverside County sheriff’s deputies responded to reports of an assault with a deadly weapon at a home in the 45000 block of Highway 37, in the unincorporated area of Aguanga, just after 12:30am.
Upon entering the home, deputies discovered a woman with severe gunshot wounds.
A search of the residence revealed six additional victims, who had also suffered gunshot wounds. They were all pronounced dead at the scene.
The woman, meanwhile, was taken to hospital but, ‘despite life-saving efforts’, died shortly after arriving, police said.
Investigators said evidence at the scene indicated that the residence was being used to ‘manufacture and harvest an illicit marijuana operation.’
More than 1,000 pounds of marijuana and several hundred marijuana plants were found inside the home, the sheriff’s department said.
It was unclear if more than one shooter was involved in the incident. A search of the area failed to immediately locate suspects.
An investigation is currently underway and no further information was immediately available, Cpl. Lionel Murphy of the Sheriff’s Department said.
Detectives from the Sheriff’s Central Homicide Unit and from its Hemet Station remained at the scene throughout Monday, gathering evidence.
‘Investigators are currently working on leads,’ Murphy said in a brief statement.
In a press release, attributed to Sgt. Richard Carroll, the authorities said the killings ‘appears to have been an isolated incident, and there is no threat to the general public.’
The names of those fatally shot were not immediately released.
One unidentified neighbor told MyValleyNews they heard the shooting.
‘We heard shots at 12:20 a.m. or so,’ the neighbor said. ‘About ten shots were fired. Law enforcement has been here all night, and the ambulance and helicopter, too. One deputy interviewed us and mentioned there was a homicide. It is just a shock to have gunfire so close.’
‘It’s just horrible,’ said another resident. ‘It just goes to show how much stuff goes on behind the scenes and how our community has changed.’
Aguanga is an unincorporated community about 18 miles east of Temecula, and 100 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
While cannabis remains classified as an illegal narcotic under federal law, California in 2018 legalized its commercial distribution. As the most populous U.S. state, California opened the largest legalized, regulated and taxed marijuana market in the country.
Last April, just over a year after legalizing the drug, California announced it would be doubling efforts to stamp out unlicensed pot shops and redouble its efforts to eradicate illegal marijuana farms.
The crackdown came as the state’s regulated marijuana industry continued to struggle with competition from the black market. California has seen the underground market thrive since recreational marijuana was legalized, something that also happened in Colorado around seven years ago.
By some estimates, California is the origin of some 60 percent of the nation’s illicit marijuana supply.