FBI, Texas authorities search for gunman who killed 5 neighbors in San Jacinto County
By Sneha Dey, The Texas Tribune
“FBI, Texas authorities search for gunman who killed 5 neighbors in San Jacinto County” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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Over 250 law enforcement officers are on a manhunt for the gunman who killed five of his neighbors late Friday night. The gunman went on a rampage with his AR-15-style rifle when his neighbors asked him to stop firing shots in his yard so their baby could sleep.
Authorities have identified the gunman as 38-year-old Francisco Oropesa. He is believed to be armed and dangerous. Officials have recovered the gun used in the shooting but say the suspect could be carrying a smaller weapon.
The manhunt currently has “zero leads,” James Smith, special agent in charge of the FBI Houston office, said at a news conference Sunday afternoon. Law enforcement officers have been going door to door to get information about the suspect. State, federal and local authorities are also offering an $80,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Oropesa.
“We do not know where he is. We don’t have any tips right now to where he may be,” Smith said. “Right now, we’re running into dead ends.”
The suspect’s wife is in constant contact with the authorities, Smith added.
Law enforcement officers, led by the FBI, initially focused search efforts on a heavily wooded area near the victims’ home but have since expanded the search perimeter. Oropesa’s cellphone was found abandoned, along with articles of clothing. Police dogs picked up his scent initially but then lost it.
The shooter was reportedly drunk and shooting his gun outside on his front porch in Cleveland, about 40 miles northeast of downtown Houston. Wilson Garcia told ABC13 he asked the shooter to be quiet because his 1-month-old baby was trying to sleep inside. Garcia warned he would call the police.
The suspect went inside his house, came back out with an AR-15-style rifle and shot Garcia’s wife at the family’s front door, Garcia said. He then went from room to room looking for more victims, Garcia said. Authorities are reporting 10 people were inside the home at the time of shooting, while family members told the Houston Chronicle there were 16 people, including eight children.
Two of the victims, a 21-year old woman and a 31-year-old woman, were found using their bodies to shield three small children, who survived. Investigators said that each victim had been shot from the neck up.
As authorities search for the gunman, the Cleveland community grieves the five victims. Law enforcement has identified them as Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25; Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Julisa Molina Rivera, 31; Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18; and Daniel Enrique Laso. Family members have identified Laso as 9 years old.
Residents gathered for a prayer vigil on Sunday evening outside Northside Elementary School, where Daniel was a third grader.
Vianey Balderas, who has lived in the neighborhood for three years, described the victims to the Washington Post as happy. They helped her around the house and supported her when her father died, she said.
“They were a very happy family. Christian. They were kind,” Balderas said. “They would never say no to us. They were always helping us. … They were always there.”
All of the victims were from Honduras.
Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted Sunday afternoon that there was a reward for a “top 10 fugitive who is in the country illegally and killed five illegal immigrants,” which garnered criticism from Democrats for focusing on the victims’ immigration status instead of the loss of lives.
The killings and the subsequent manhunt come as families of the Uvalde school shooting are calling on Texas lawmakers to change the law on who can purchase semi-automatic guns. The gunman in the Uvalde school shooting also used an AR-15-style weapon.
In the first legislative session since the May 2022 school shooting in Uvalde, parents of the victims lined up to testify in support of a bill that would raise the minimum age to buy semi-automatic guns from 18 to 21. House Bill 2744 was left pending in committee.
In the face of decades of mass shootings in Texas, state leaders have repeatedly batted away measures that would limit access to guns, opting instead to ease restrictions on publicly carrying weapons while making it harder for local governments to regulate them.
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/04/30/san-jacinto-texas-shooting/.
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