Texas mass shooting suspect could be anywhere, sheriff says
CLEVELAND, Texas (AP) — The search for a Texas man who allegedly shot and killed his neighbors after they asked him to stop firing rounds in his yard stretched into a second Sunday, with authorities saying the You can be anywhere now.
Francisco Oropeza, 38, fled after Friday night’s shooting that killed five people, including an 8-year-old boy. San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said Saturday night authorities had expanded the search to as much as 20 miles from the scene of the shooting.
Investigators found clothing and a phone while combing a rural area with dense layers of forest, but sniffer dogs lost the scent, Capers said.
Police seized the AR-15-style rifle Oropeza allegedly used in the shooting, but authorities weren’t sure if he was carrying another weapon, the sheriff said.
“He could be anywhere now,” Capers said.
The attack happened near the city of Cleveland, north of Houston, on a street where some residents say neighbors often relax by firing guns.
Capers said the victims ranged in age from 8 to 31 and are believed to all be from Honduras. All were shot “from the neck up,” he said.
The attack was the latest act of gun violence in what has been a record pace of mass shootings in the US so far this year, some of which also affected semi-automatic rifles.
The mass murders took place in different places – a Nashville school, a Kentucky bank, a Southern California dance hall, and now a rural Texan neighborhood in a one-story house.
Capers said there were 10 people in the home – some of whom had only moved there earlier in the week – but that nobody else was hurt. He said two of the victims were found in a bedroom draped over two children in an apparent attempt to shield them.
A total of three children, who were found covered in blood in the home, were taken to a hospital but unharmed, Capers said.
FBI spokeswoman Christina Garza said investigators did not believe everyone in the home was members of a single family. The victims were identified as Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25; Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Julia Molina Rivera, 31; Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18; and Daniel Enrique Laso, 8.
The confrontation followed neighbors walking to the fence and urging the suspect to stop shooting, Capers said. The suspect responded by telling them it was his property, Capers said, and a person inside the home got video of the suspect walking to the front door with the gun.
Filming took place on a rural, potholed road, where one-story homes sit on 2.5-acre lots and are surrounded by a dense canopy of trees. A horse could be seen behind the victim’s home, while a dog and chickens roamed the front yard of Oropeza’s home.
Rene Arevalo Sr., who lives a few doors down, said he heard gunshots around midnight but thought nothing of it.
“It’s normal what people do here, especially on Fridays after work,” Arevalo said. “They come home and start drinking in their backyards and shooting outside.”
Capers said his deputies have been to Oropeza’s home at least once and spoken to him about “shooting his gun in the yard.” It was not clear if any action was being taken at the time. At a news conference Saturday night, the sheriff said firing a gun at one’s property may be illegal, but he didn’t say if Oropeza had previously broken the law.
Capers said the new arrivals moved out of Houston earlier in the week, but he doesn’t know if they plan to stay.
Since January 1, there have been at least 18 shootings in the United States that have killed at least four people a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today, in partnership with Northeastern University. The violence is triggered by a range of motives: homicide-suicide and domestic violence; gang retaliation; school shootings; and vendettas in the workplace.
Texas has faced several mass shootings in recent years, including last year’s attack at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde; a racist attack at a Walmart in El Paso in 2019; And A gunman opens fire on a church in the small town of Sutherland Springs in 2017.
Republican leaders in Texas have repeatedly rejected calls for new gun restrictions, including this year about the protests of several families whose children were killed in Uvalde.
A few months ago, Arevalo said Oropeza threatened to kill his dog after he broke loose in the neighborhood and chased the pit bull in his truck.
“I tell my wife all the time, ‘Stay away from the neighbors. Don’t argue with them. You never know how they’re going to react,'” said Arevalo. “I’m telling her this because Texas is a state where you don’t know who has a gun and who’s going to react that way.”