Seven people died after suffering from gunshot wounds at a suspected illegal marijuana grow operation in Aguanga early Monday morning, officials from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said.
According to a news release issued by the agency, at 12:33 a.m. Sept. 7, deputies responded to a report of an assault with a deadly weapon at a residence located on the 45000 block of Highway 371 in the unincorporated town of Aguanga.
Deputies responding to the scene discovered seven shooting victims. Six died at the scene as a result of their injuries, but one of those victims, a woman, was still alive upon deputies’ arrival.
Paramedics quickly transported the woman to a hospital for medical treatment where, despite life-saving efforts by medical personnel, she died from her injuries.
One unidentified neighbor said 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.”
Deputies searched the surrounding area, but the suspect or suspects remain outstanding.
“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.”
Investigators from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Central Homicide Unit and Hemet Station responded and assumed the investigation.
Sheriff’s Department officials said the shooting appeared to be an isolated incident, and there is no threat to the general public.
“Evidence located at the scene indicated the location was being used to manufacture and harvest an illicit marijuana operation,” Riverside County Sheriff’s Sgt. Richard Carroll said. “There was over one thousand pounds of marijuana and several hundred marijuana plants located at the scene.”
California broadly legalized recreational marijuana sales in January 2018 but the illegal market has continued to thrive, in part because hefty legal marijuana taxes send consumers looking for better deals in the illicit economy.
Other factors that provide an opening for illegal sales and cultivation: Many local California communities have not established legal marijuana markets, or have banned commercial marijuana activity. Law enforcement has been unable to keep up with the illicit growing operations.
“This risk is inherent in the underground market,” said Los Angeles marijuana dispensary owner Jerred Kiloh, who heads United Cannabis Business Association, an industry group. “When you have money and high returns, people want to take that from you.”
Kiloh said most illicit market crimes go unreported because operators who have been robbed cannot turn to authorities.
Large cannabis growing operations typically have hundreds of thousands of dollars of product at each site, making them attractive targets for criminals.
“That’s why the violence becomes worse and worse,” Kiloh said.
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department urges anyone with information regarding the incident to contact Central Homicide Investigator Paz at 951-955-2777.
The shooting remained under investigation Sept. 8.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.