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Authorities announce capture of man suspected of killing 5 neighbors in San Jacinto County

By Alexa Ura, The Texas Tribune

Authorities announce capture of man suspected of killing 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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FBI officials on Tuesday announced the capture of the man accused of killing five of his neighbors last week.

The Friday night rampage involving an AR-15-style rifle in Cleveland, a small town about 40 miles northeast of downtown Houston, sparked a massive manhunt that included more than 200 law enforcement officers from various police agencies. It ended after a call received through the FBI’s tipline led police to a house where the suspect was arrested, authorities said.

“Bottom line is we now have this man in custody. He was caught hiding in a closet underneath some laundry,” San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said during a Tuesday night press conference.

The victims’ families “can rest easy now because he is behind bars, and he will live out his life behind bars for killing those five,” Capers said.

Law enforcement officers initially focused search efforts on a heavily wooded area near the victims’ home but later expanded the search perimeter. Francisco Oropesa’s cellphone was found abandoned, along with articles of clothing. They did not specify the location of his arrest on Tuesday, but officials said the suspect was being held at the Montgomery County jail where he was initially taken. The suspect will be transferred to San Jacinto County, where he will be facing five murder charges.

Law enforcement identified the five victims 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.

Two of the victims were found using their bodies to shield three small children, who survived. Investigators said that each victim had been shot from the neck up.

The shooter was reportedly drunk and shooting his gun outside on his front porch before a neighbor asked him to be quiet because his 1-month-old baby was trying to sleep inside. The neighbor, Wilson Garcia, told ABC13 the suspect went inside his home, came back out with an AR-15-style rifle and shot Garcia’s wife at the family’s front door. He then went from room to room looking for more victims, Garcia said.

The Cleveland community grieved the victims, including at a Sunday prayer vigil, even as their deaths were drawn into political controversy. On Sunday, Gov. Greg Abbott shared a new release announcing a $50,000 reward for information about the shooter while labeling the victims as “illegal immigrants.”

After drawing rebuke for focusing on immigration status and not the loss of life, Abbott’s office on Monday expressed some regret, suggesting unnamed “federal officials” provided mistaken information indicating that all five victims were in the country illegally.

“We’ve since learned that at least one of the victims may have been in the United States legally,” Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze said in a Monday statement. “We regret if the information was incorrect and detracted from the important goal of finding and arresting the criminal.”

The statement did not address criticism that Abbott’s language focused on the victims’ immigration status instead of the victims and their families, though Eze noted: “Any loss of life is a tragedy, and our hearts go out to the families who have lost a loved one.”

Capers, the county sheriff, said Sunday that he did not care about the victims’ immigration status and felt a duty to protect everyone in his county.

Decades of mass shootings in Texas have been lined by state leaders’ efforts to ease restrictions on guns while putting aside proposals to limit access.

The capture of the gunman came the same day families of the victims of the May 24 Uvalde school shooting returned to the state Capitol to once again ask 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.

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