CLEVELAND, Texas — A Texas man went next door with a gun and killed five of his neighbors, including an 8-year-old boy, after they asked him to stop shooting in his yard because they were trying to sleep, authorities announced on Saturday.
The suspect, identified as 38-year-old Francisco Oropeza, remained at large for more than 18 hours after the shooting and authorities have warned he may still be armed. The attack happened just before midnight on Friday night near the city of Cleveland, north of Houston, on a street where some residents say it’s not uncommon to hear neighbors relaxing while firing shots of fire.
San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said Oropeza used an AR-type rifle, and as his search dragged on Saturday night, authorities expanded their efforts to “10 to 20 miles” of the murder scene. He said Oropeza may still have a gun, but he believes authorities used the gun in the shooting.
Capers said he found clothes and a phone while combing a rural area that includes dense layers of forest, but the tracker dogs had lost the scent.
“He could be anywhere now,” Capers said.
When the neighbor approached Oropeza over the fence and asked him to stop shooting because his baby couldn’t sleep, the suspect responded by saying it was his property, Capers said.
The sheriff told our sister station ABC13 Eyewitness News that five victims, including an 8-year-old child, were shot from the neck up, “almost execution style.”
A judge issued an arrest warrant for Oropeza and assigned $5 million bail. Deputies describe Oropeza as a 5ft 8in Hispanic male. He was last seen wearing jeans, a black shirt and work boots. Investigators said he had a goatee and short black hair.
Authorities believe Oropeza left on foot or by bicycle. They focused their search on an area not far from the filming location.
Early Saturday afternoon, ABC13’s SkyEye was at the scene, where authorities could be seen searching. Around 1:30 p.m., investigators told ABC13 that law enforcement contacted Oropeza by phone.
WATCH: SkyEye video shows authorities searching for mass shooting suspect in Cleveland, TX
At a 5:30 p.m. news conference, Capers and FBI Special Agent in Charge James Smith provided updates on the search and acknowledged they did not know the whereabouts of the suspect.
According to Capers, a phone that Oropeza allegedly used was found with clothes that had been left behind. Officials believe Oropeza is on foot and consider him a threat to the community as he is allegedly armed and dangerous.
The FBI assists the San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Office in the search for Oropeza.
Capers said there were 10 people in the house – some of whom had just moved in earlier in the week – but no one else was injured.
Capers said two of the victims, all from Honduras, were found lying on top of two children inside.
“When we got here, the two women in the bedroom were lying on top of two of the three younger (survivor) children,” Capers said.
A total of three children found covered in blood at home were taken to hospital but were not injured, Capers said.
FBI spokeswoman Christina Garza said investigators don’t believe everyone at the home is a single family member.
A family member spoke to ABC13 earlier today and began identifying the victims, including 8-year-old Daniel Enrique Laso.
Officials said the family identified the other victims as Diana Velasquez Alvarado, 21, Julissa Molina Rivera, 31, Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25, and Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18.
Rene Arevalo Sr., who lives a few houses away, said he heard gunshots around midnight but thought nothing of it.
“It’s a normal thing people do here, especially on Fridays after work,” Arevalo said. “They come home and start drinking in their garden and shooting there.”
Capers said his deputies had visited Oropeza’s home at least once before and talked to him about “shooting his gun in the yard.” It was unclear whether any action had been taken at the time. At a Saturday night press conference, the sheriff said shooting a gun at your own property could be illegal, but he didn’t say whether Oropeza had ever broken the law.
A few months ago, Arevalo said Oropeza threatened to kill his dog after he escaped into the neighborhood and chased the pit bull in his truck.
“I tell my wife all the time, ‘Stay away from the neighbors. Don’t argue with them. You never know how they’re going to react,'” Arevalo said. “I’m telling him that because Texas is a state where you don’t know who has a gun and who’s going to react that way.”
Cleveland ISD released a statement:
The Cleveland Independent School District is heartbroken upon hearing the news that one of our students has passed away. At this time, we cannot elaborate any information due to the ongoing investigation into the horrific tragedy. Cleveland ISD Director of Social and Emotional Learning & SIPB; Dr. Hodge, alerted all emergency advisers; these advisers are on call during this weekend for all staff and students who need them. Monday morning, all our instructors will be prepared and ready from 7:00. We have advised our staff members to contact their manager or head of department if an adviser is needed by Monday.
All of our prayers and thoughts are with the families and community affected by this horrific tragedy. Cleveland ISD will take all necessary measures, precautionary needs and actions to support all of our students and staff during this time, as well as to ensure their safety.
In the United States since Jan. 1, there have been at least 18 shootings that have resulted in four or more deaths, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today, in partnership with Northeastern University. Violence is triggered by a range of motives: murder-suicides and domestic violence; gang retaliation; school shootings and workplace vendettas.
Texas has faced several mass shootings in recent years, including last year’s attack on Robb Elementary School in Uvalde; a racist attack at an El Paso Walmart in 2019; and a gunman opened fire on a church in the small town of Sutherland Springs in 2017.
Republican leaders in Texas have rejected calls for new gun restrictions, including this year following protests by several families whose children were killed in Uvalde.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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