Armed guards were a fixture outside the marijuana farm in rural Oklahoma where four people were killed execution-style.
The postman “was confronted with guns pretty much the entire time,” Jack Quirk, the owner of the local newspaper, All About Hennessey, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “Why are there guards anyway? You know, if it’s a legitimate farm, what’s up?”
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation announced Tuesday that the suspect in the weekend murders, Wu Chen, has been taken into custody by Miami Beach police and taken to the Miami-Dade County Detention Center.
He was arrested “after a car tag reader flagged (the) vehicle he was traveling in,” the agency said. The suspect is charged with murder and shooting with intent to kill and is being extradited to Oklahoma. No lawyer has been assigned to him yet.
Authorities said the victims — three men and a woman, all Chinese nationals — were shot dead, “executed” on the 10-acre property west of Hennessey, a town about 56 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. . A fifth victim, also a Chinese national, was injured and taken to a hospital in Oklahoma City.
The survivor had been shot twice, said Quirk, who showed up as crews were setting up a landing zone for a medical helicopter and watched as they loaded the man.
The victims had not yet been publicly identified and officials were still in the process of notifying next of kin, police said.
“The suspect was in that building for quite some 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 grew rapidly thanks to an open-ended law that was less restrictive than other states.
In March, voters will decide whether to legalize recreational use of the drug.
Maryland and Missouri passed 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 during the midterm elections.
Quirk said he’s heard from 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 good example of that… they did questionable things that the neighbors feel went unchecked.”
He said the majority of the employees did not speak English and he never saw them off the premises. That has led locals to worry about working conditions, Quirk said.
Porsha Riley, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, said there is an active license for a medical marijuana company to grow at the site.
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 growing space, as well as two separate living areas.
Tami Amsler-ZumMallen, the listing agent for the property, said the listing had expired. She said the brokers 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 on Tuesday it was too early to say this was a focus of this investigation.
None of the 14 Hennessey-area marijuana farms responded to email inquiries from The Associated Press, and officials would not identify which one was operating at the shooting scene.
The marijuana plantation deaths were Oklahoma’s third mass murder in just over a month. On October 27, six children were killed in a suspected murder-suicide in the Tulsa suburb of Broken Arrow, and on October 14, the bodies of four missing men were found dismembered in an Oklahoma river.
According to a database from The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University, there have been 40 mass murders in the United States so far this year. In the past week, six were killed in the cafeteria of a Walmart store in Virginia and five in a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs. The database defines a mass murder as at least four dead, 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.
Follow AP’s coverage of marijuana: https://apnews.com/hub/marijuana