Armed guards were a fixture outside the marijuana growing operation in rural Oklahoma where four people were slain execution-style.
The mail carrier "was met with guns pretty much all the time,” Jack Quirk, the owner of the local paper, All About Hennessey, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “Why are there guards anyway? You know, if it’s a legit farm, what’s the deal?"
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation announced Tuesday that the suspect in the weekend killings, Wu Chen, was taken into custody by Miami Beach police and brought to the Miami-Dade County Detention Center.
He was arrested “after a car tag reader flagged (the) vehicle he was driving,” the bureau said. The suspect will be charged with murder and shooting with intent to kill and faces extradition to Oklahoma. No attorney has been assigned to him yet.
Authorities said the victims — three men and one woman, all Chinese citizens — were shot dead, “executed” on the 10-acre (4-hectare) property west of Hennessey, a town about 55 miles (90 kilometers) northwest of Oklahoma City. A fifth victim who is also a Chinese citizen was wounded and taken to an Oklahoma City hospital.
The survivor had been shot twice, said Quirk, who showed up when crews were setting up a landing zone for a medical helicopter and watched them load up the man.
The victims had not yet been identified publicly, and officials were still working to notify next of kin, police said.
“The suspect was inside that building for a significant amount of time before the executions began,” OSBI said in a news release earlier Tuesday. “Based on the investigation thus far, this does not appear to be a random incident.”
In March, voters will decide whether to legalize recreational use of the drug.
Maryland and Missouri approved recreational marijuana in this month’s midterm elections, bringing the total number states that allow recreational use to 21. Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota voters rejected legalization proposals in the midterms.
Quirk said he's heard from residents who think the marijuana farms in Oklahoma are poorly regulated.
“They weren’t prepared for what comes along with this stuff," he said. “This particular facility is a great example of that ... they were doing questionable things that the neighbors feel weren’t checked on.”
He said the majority of the workers spoke no English and he never saw them off of the property. That has led locals to raise concerns about the working conditions, Quirk said.
Porsha Riley, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, said there is an active license for a medical marijuana grow business at the location.
The operation was put up for sale earlier this year for just under $1 million. The listing described it as having several thousand square feet of indoor grow space, as well as two separate living quarters.
Tami Amsler-ZumMallen, the listing agent for the property, said the listing had expired. She said the brokers had told her not to comment.
The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control has targeted criminal growing and trafficking of marijuana for the black market in recent years. But agency spokesman Mark Woodward said Tuesday it was too soon to say that was a focus of this investigation.
None of the 14 marijuana growing operations in the Hennessey area responded to email inquiries from The Associated Press, and officials would not identify which one operated at the site of the shootings.
The deaths at the marijuana farm were the third mass killing in Oklahoma in a little over a month. On Oct. 27, six children were killed in a suspected murder-suicide in the Tulsa suburb of Broken Arrow, and on Oct. 14, the bodies of four men who’d gone missing were found dismembered in an Oklahoma river.
According to a database run by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University, the United States has now had 40 mass killings so far this year. In just the past week, six were killed in the break room of a Walmart store in Virginia and five were slain at a Colorado Springs gay nightclub. The database defines a mass killing as at least four people killed, not including the killer.
Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas. Associated Press writers Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, Adam Kealoha Causey in Dallas and Peter Orsi in Denver contributed.
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Heather Hollingsworth, The Associated Press