(AP) — Armed guards were a fixture outside of the rural Oklahoma marijuana farm where four people were killed, execution-style.
The postman “was getting hit with guns pretty much the whole time,” Jack Quirk, the owner of local newspaper All About Hennessey, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “Why are there guards at all? You know, if it’s a real farm, what’s going on?”
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation announced Tuesday that suspect in the weekend killings, Wu Chen, has been taken into custody by Miami Beach police and taken to the Miami-Dade County Detention Center.
He was arrested “after an auto-tag reader tagged (the) vehicle he was driving,” the bureau said. The suspect is charged with murder and shooting with intent to kill and is subject to extradition to Oklahoma. He has not yet been assigned a lawyer.
Authorities said the victims – three men and a woman, all Chinese nationals – were shot and “executed” at the 4-acre property west of Hennessey, a town about 55 miles (90 kilometers) northwest of Oklahoma City. A fifth victim, also a Chinese citizen, was injured and taken to an Oklahoma City hospital.
The survivor was shot twice, said Quirk, who showed up as crews set up a landing zone for a medical helicopter and watched as they loaded the man up.
The victims have not yet been publicly identified and officers are still working to notify next of kin, police said.
“The suspect was in this building for a considerable time before the executions began,” OSBI said in a press release earlier Tuesday. “Based on the investigation to date, this does not appear to be a random incident.”
Oklahoma voters legalized medical marijuana in 2018, and the industry quickly boomed thanks to a permanent law with fewer restrictions than other states.
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 of states that allow recreational use to 21. Voters in Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota rejected legalization proposals in the midterm elections.
Quirk said he’s heard from local residents who think Oklahoma’s marijuana farms are poorly regulated.
“They weren’t prepared for what comes with this stuff,” he said. “This particular facility is a great example of that…they did questionable things that the neighbors believe weren’t checked.”
He said the majority of the workers did not speak English and he never escorted them off the property. That has prompted locals to raise concerns about working conditions, Quirk said.
Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority spokeswoman Porsha Riley said there is an active license for a medical marijuana cultivation business at the site.
The operation was listed 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 has expired. She said the agents told her not to comment.
The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control has targeted the criminal cultivation and trafficking of marijuana for the black market in recent years. But agency spokesman Mark Woodward said Tuesday it was too early to say it was a focus of this investigation.
None of the 14 Hennessey-area marijuana farms responded to email inquiries from The Associated Press, and officials declined to identify which farm operated at the scene of the shooting.
The deaths at the marijuana farm were the third mass murder in Oklahoma in just over a month. On October 27, six children were killed in a suspected murder suicide in Broken Arrow, a suburb of Tulsa, and on October 14, the bodies of four missing men were found dismembered in an Oklahoma river.
There have been 40 mass murders in the United States so far this year, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today, and Northeastern University. In the past week alone, six have been killed in the break room of a Walmart store in Virginia and five at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs. The database defines mass murder as at least four people killed, not counting 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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