By Juan A. Lozano | Associated Press
CLEVELAND, Texas — Law enforcement officers said Sunday they’ve been unable to find a gunman who fled after killing five people in a rural Texas town, offering $80,000 in total reward money in hopes of motivating someone to come forward with information about the suspect’s whereabouts.
“We do not know where he is,” said James Smith, the FBI’s special agent in charge. Police were going door to door looking for the suspect.
The suspect, Francisco Oropesa, 38, was considered armed and dangerous after fleeing the area Friday, likely on foot, San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said late Saturday. He said authorities had widened the search to 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the scene of the shooting, which occurred after the suspect’s neighbors asked him to stop firing off rounds in his yard.
Investigators found clothes and a phone while combing a rural area that includes dense layers of forest, but tracking dogs lost the scent, Capers said. Authorities were able to identify Oropesa by an identity card issued by Mexican authorities to citizens who reside outside the country, as well as doorbell camera footage. He said police have also interviewed the suspect’s wife.
Police recovered the AR-15-style rifle that Oropesa allegedly used in the shootings but authorities were not sure if he was carrying another weapon, the sheriff said. There were other weapons in the suspect’s home, he said.
“He could be anywhere now,” Capers said on Saturday.
The attack happened near the town of Cleveland, north of Houston, on a street where some residents say neighbors often unwind by firing off guns.
It was a much quieter scene Sunday. Police crime scene tape had been removed from around the victims’ home. Some people stopped by to leave flowers.
An FBI agent, several Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and other officers could be seen walking around the neighborhood, going door-to-door and trying to speak with neighbors. The agent and officers declined to comment about what they were doing.
As the troopers were speaking to residents at one house, a red truck pulling a travel trailer drove through the neighborhood. One trooper stopped the truck and asked the driver, “Mind if I take a look inside the truck?”
The driver agreed and allowed the trooper to go inside the vehicle. After inspecting the trailer, the trooper let the driver continue on his way.
Veronica Pineda, 34, who lives across the street from the suspect’s home, said authorities asked if they could search her property to see if he might be hiding there.
“That’s good for them to do that,” said the mother of five, adding that she remained fearful because the gunman hasn’t yet been captured.
“It is kind of scary. You never know where he can be. I don’t think he will be here anymore,” she said.
She said she didn’t know Oropesa well but occasionally saw him, his wife and son ride their horses on the street and believes the family have lived there five or six years. Pineda said neighbors have called authorities in the past to complain about the firing of weapons.
The victims of Friday’s shooting were between the ages of 8 and 31 years old and all were believed to be from Honduras, Capers said. All were shot “from the neck up,” he said. A GoFundMe page was set up to repatriate the bodies of two victims, a mother and son, to their native country.
Enrique Reina, Honduras’ secretary of foreign affairs and international cooperation, said on Twitter that the Honduran Consulate in Houston was contacting the families in connection with the repatriation of remains as well as U.S. authorities to keep apprised of the investigation.
The suspect’s last name was originally given as Oropeza by authorities, but the FBI in Houston said in a Tweet on Sunday that it was now referring to him as Oropesa to “better reflect his identity in law enforcement systems.” The FBI said the case “remains a fluid investigation.”
The attack was the latest act of gun violence in what has been a record pace of mass shootings in the U.S. so far this year, some of which have also involved semiautomatic rifles.
Capers said there were 10 people in the house — some of whom had just moved there earlier in the week — but no one else was injured. He said two of the victims were found in a bedroom laying over two children in an apparent attempt to shield them.
A total of three children found covered in blood in the home were taken to a hospital but found to be uninjured, Capers said.
FBI spokesperson Christina Garza said investigators do not believe those at the home were members of a single family. The victims were identified as Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25; Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Julisa Molina Rivera, 31; Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18; and Daniel Enrique Laso, 8.
The confrontation came after the neighbors walked up to a fence and asking the suspect to stop shooting rounds, Capers said. He said the suspect responded by telling them that it was his property. Doorbell video captured him walking up to the front door with a rifle.
The shooting took place on a rural pothole-riddled street where single-story homes sit on 1-acre lots and are surrounded by a thick canopy of trees. A horse could be seen behind the victims’ home, while in the front yard of Oropesa’s house a dog and chickens wandered about.
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Rene Arevalo Sr., who lives a few houses down, said he heard gunshots around midnight but didn’t think anything of it.
“It’s a normal thing people do around here, especially on Fridays after work,” Arevalo said. “They get home and start drinking in their backyards and shooting out there.”
Associated Press Writer Susan Haigh in Norwich, Connecticut, contributed to this report.