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 A. 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 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 the community of Conroe, north of Houston and about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from his home in the rural town of Cleveland. That’s where authorities say he went next door and shot his neighbors with an AR-style rifle shortly before midnight Friday.
Oropeza had been shooting rounds on his property and the attack occurred after neighbors asked him to go farther away because the gunfire was keeping a baby awake, according to police.
Oropeza will be charged with five counts of murder, San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said. Bond was set at $5 million.
“They can rest easy now, because he is behind bars,” Capers said of the families of the victims. “He will live out his life behind bars for killing those five.”
The arrest ends what had become a widening dragnet that had grown to more than 250 people from multiple jurisdictions and had seen $80,000 in reward money offered. 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.
The tip that finally ended the chase came at 5:15 p.m., and a little more than an hour later, Oropeza was in custody, said FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jimmy Paul. The alleged shooter is a Mexican national who has been deported four times between 2009 and 2016, according to U.S. immigration officials
Connor Hagan, an FBI spokesman, said they would not disclose the identity of the person who called in the tip — one of more than 200 tips he says investigators received. Authorities did not say who owned the house, whether Oropeza knew them or if anyone else was inside when he was found.
They also would not say whether friends or family had helped Oropeza evade capture, or where he had been since fleeing the scene in Cleveland, which authorities previously said was likely on foot.
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.
Drones and scent-tracking dogs had been used during the widening manhunt, which included combing a heavily wooded forest a few miles from the scene. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott offered a $50,000 reward as the search dragged late into the weekend, while others offered an additional $30,000 in reward money.
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.
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.
A government official in Honduras said the remains of four of the victims would be repatriated. Velásquez Alvarado will be buried in the United States at the request of her sister and her husband, said Wilson Paz, general director of Honduras’ migrant protection service.
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.”
In offering the reward, Abbott 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.
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.