Authorities near Houston say they have caught a man suspected of killing five of his neighbors with an AR-style rifle. San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said Tuesday that 38-year-old Francisco Oropeza was arrested in connection with the shooting in the town of Cleveland. He said Oropeza was found hiding in the closet of a home, under a pile of laundry, after investigators acted on a tip. Authorities say the shooting began late Friday after the neighbors had confronted Oropeza about firing a gun in his yard late at night. One of the victims was 9 years old.
By JUAN LOZANO and NOMAAN MERCHANT (Associated Press)
CLEVELAND, Texas (AP) — A four-day manhunt in Texas for a gunman accused of killing five neighbors ended Tuesday not far from the site of the shooting when authorities, acting on a tip, said they found the suspect hiding underneath a pile of laundry in the closet of a house.
Francisco Oropeza, 38, was captured without incident near Houston and about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from his home in the rural town of Cleveland, where authorities say he went next door and shot his neighbors with an AR-style rifle after some of them had asked him to stop firing rounds in his yard because it was keeping a baby awake.
“They can rest easy now, because he is behind bars,” San Jacinto County Greg Capers said of the families of the victims. “He will live out his life behind bars for killing those five.”
The arrest happened near Conroe, ending what had become a widening dragnet that had grown to more than 250 people from multiple jurisdictions. As recently as Tuesday morning, the FBI said that Oropeza “could be anywhere,” underlining how investigators for days struggled to get a sense of his whereabouts and candidly acknowledged they had no leads.
Drones and scent-tracking dogs were used during a widening search that included combing a heavily wooded forest a few miles from the scene. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott offered $50,000 in reward money as the search dragged late into the weekend.
FBI spokesperson Connor Hagan said the three agencies that went in to arrest Oropeza were the U.S. Marshals, Texas Department of Public Safety and US Border Patrol’s BORTAC team.
The alleged shooter is a Mexican national who has been deported four times, according to U.S. immigration officials. The gunman was first deported in March 2009 and last in July 2016. He was also deported in September 2009 and January 2012.
Capers said that prior to Friday’s shooting deputies had been called to the suspect’s house at least one other time previously over shooting rounds in his yard.
All of the victims were from Honduras. Wilson Garcia, who survived the shooting, said friends and family in the home tried to hide and shield themselves and children after Oropeza walked up to the home and began firing, killing his wife first at the front door.
Garcia said Oropeza came running over to their house loading an AR-style rifle after he and two other people had asked him to stop firing off rounds late at night. Garcia said Oropeza told him he could do what he wanted on his property.
In offering the reward, Abbot called the victims “illegal immigrants,” a partially false statement that his office walked back and apologized for Monday after drawing wide backlash over drawing attention to their immigration status. Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze said they had since learned that one of the victims may have been in the country legally.
The victims were identified as Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Julisa Molina Rivera, 31; Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18; Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25; and Daniel Enrique Laso, 9.
Osmán Velásquez, Diana’s father, said Tuesday that his daughter had recently gotten residency and had traveled to the United States without documents eight years ago with the help of a sister, who was already living there.
“Her sister convinced me to let her take my daughter. She told me the United States is a country of opportunities and that’s true,” he said. But I never imagined it was just for this.”
Merchant reported from Washington. Associated Press reporters Jake Bleiberg in Dallas, Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas, and Marlon González in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, contributed to this report.