Tuesday marks the fourth day in a widening dragnet for a man suspected of killing five people in San Jacinto County. The incident unfolded on Friday evening when the suspect had been shooting his gun in his yard in Cleveland, northeast of Houston.
A neighbor, Wilson Garcia, approached the man and asked him to stop shooting so that his baby could sleep. Authorities say that 10 to 20 minutes later, the suspect, 38-year-old Francisco Oropesa, retrieved an AR-15 rifle from his house and walked to Garcia’s home, killing his 9-year-old son, his wife and three other people, then disappeared before first responders arrived. All of the victims were Honduran nationals.
According to authorities, Oropesa had a history of shooting his rifle in his yard, and neighbors had called law enforcement in the past expressing frustration. The head of FBI operations in the Houston area said Monday that the agency has no leads on locating the suspect.
More than 200 law enforcement agents, including state and federal officers, were said to be involved in the search, which has garnered national attention. There’s an $80,000 reward for information leading to Oropesa’s capture.
According to law enforcement, Oropesa is a Mexican national and has been deported several times. The immigration status of both the shooting suspect and the victims has been a topic of discussion, especially in conservative media outlets, said Lucio Vasquez, who has been following this story for Houston Public Media.
Gov. Greg Abbott also drew criticism for referencing the victims’ immigration status in a tweet announcing the reward money for tips leading to Oropesa’s capture.
“He sent out a tweet on Sunday announcing reward money. But in that tweet, he also called the victims illegal immigrants,” Vasquez said. “Since then, Abbott has backpedaled and said that at least one of the victims may have been in the United States legally. During press conferences over the weekend, however, Greg Capers, the sheriff in San Jacinto County, expressed remorse for the families and said that their immigration status didn’t matter to the investigation.”
Vasquez said this incident has similarities to other shootings that have recently made headlines, such as a teenage boy who was killed in Missouri after knocking on the wrong door.
“In my opinion, it doesn’t seem incredibly different. I mean, this was allegedly spurred on by what seems to be a neighborly request,” Vasquez said. “Of course, we don’t know exactly what was said during their interaction – during this request – but at face value, this was someone who had asked their neighbor to simply stop shooting because their child was trying to sleep. And for then the next reaction to be to bring that gun into their neighbor’s home and to do what they did, it is a startling overreaction.”
Vasquez said that while law enforcement has received a few tips about the suspect’s whereabouts, no concrete leads have materialized.
“The special agent in charge at the Houston FBI field office said on Sunday that it’s possible that (Oropesa) has been in contact with friends,” he said. “There were two tips that the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, a neighboring county of Liberty County, had told the media outlets. And those two searches ended up becoming fruitless. I know that the police have been using search dogs, helicopters, drones and even gone door to door throughout the Cleveland area.”
Vasquez said the reaction in the community has been shock and sorrow.
“It’s never easy to deal with this in such a small community,” he said. “A lot of these individuals are just still reeling and coping. I know that the child, they had a vigil at his elementary school, I believe yesterday, where his classmates set up a monument of sorts to honor him. And so I know a lot of the families are in the process of planning for the funerals. And I know they’re asking for privacy as they’re going through the process. And so I know there’s going to be a lot of sadness and a lot of grief over these next few weeks.”