When a gunman massacred four adults and a child Friday night at a home near Cleveland, northeast of Houston, he shattered the worlds of four Honduran families trying to build comfortable lives in the United States.
Sixteen close friends and family members were hanging out at the home in unincorporated San Jacinto County when Francisco Oropesa, the man authorities said was the shooter, stormed through the house with his AR-15.
But for all the attention paid to the manhunt, relatively little attention was paid to the victims of the shooting.
Jhair Romero, the Latino Communities reporter for the Houston Chronicle, said the four families in the house that night spent a lot of time together.
“It was four tight-knit Honduran families in the house that night, four young couples and all their kids,” Romero said. “Those we’ve spoken to have told us that they all love spending time with each other. That Friday night, everyone was together hanging out because some of them were getting ready for an electrical job the next morning. One of the mothers who was there actually wanted to be a cosmetologist and was helping one of the other women to do her makeup for a church event.”
Nine-year-old Daniel Enrique Lazo Guzman and his mother, Sonia Argentina Guzman Taibot, were among the victims.
“The little boy, Daniel, his family told us that he was a high-spirited kid. He didn’t pick fights and always wanted to play with other kids,” Romero said. “He was only in the third grade at Northside Elementary there in Cleveland ISD. His uncle, Ramiro Guzman, told us that he had dreamed of becoming a police officer and that he loved playing soccer.”
Guzman Taibot settled in San Jacinto County because the greenery reminded her of her hometown in Honduras, Romero said.
“She grew up in a village named La Misión, in the Comoyagua region of Honduras,” he said. “Her goal was to provide for her family at home. And her brother Ramiro told us that she’d accomplished that. She had three kids that she was raising with her husband.”
Two of the other victims were also mothers of kids who were present in the house.
“Their names were Diana Velazquez Alvarado and Julisa Molina Rivera. And they both died actually protecting a group of kids from gunfire in a bedroom of the house. Diana’s boyfriend, Jeffri Rivera, who was there that night, told us that she wanted to be a cosmetologist,” Romero said. “She was a mother of two young boys. Julisa was the girlfriend of another one of the victims of that night. And she also had two kids. She had just recently started being brought around the whole group when the shooting happened. And she was so warming up to everyone. Jeffri told us that she was a hard worker and she just wanted to give her kids a good life.”
The last victim was 18-year-old Jonathan Casarez, who was helping his girlfriend, Molina Rivera, raise her two children.
“His uncle told us that he was very mature for his age,” Romero said. “He grew up in Morazán in the Honduran department of Yoro and made a living remodeling homes here in Texas.”
Romero said the survivors of the shooting are now grappling with the grief of losing friends and family members.
“Everyone lost someone here. One of the people in the house that night was, as I mentioned, Jeffri, who is Diana’s boyfriend and Jonathan’s uncle. So he lost a family member as well as the mother to his two young boys that night,” Romero said. “After the alleged shooter was arrested, he told me nothing could bring his girlfriend back.
“Ramiro, who was Sonia’s brother and Daniel’s uncle, his wife and kids were all there that night and survived. But he still lost his sister and his nephew. And Wilson Garcia, Sonia’s husband and Daniel’s dad, said last weekend that his 2-year-old daughter keeps asking where her mother and her brother are.”