The search for a Texas man who allegedly shot his neighbors after he told them to stop firing rounds into his yard extended into a second day Sunday, with authorities saying the man could now be anywhere.
Francisco Oropeza, 38, fled Friday night after a shooting that killed five people, including an 8-year-old boy. San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said Saturday evening that authorities had expanded the search to 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the scene of the shooting.
On Sunday morning, the FBI’s Houston office released a new photo of Oropeza, taken in August 2022.
Investigators found clothes and a phone combing through a rural area with a thick layer of forest, but tracking dogs lost the scent, Capers said.
Twitter / FBI Houston
Police recovered the AR-15-style rifle that Oropeza used in the shooting but authorities are not sure if he was carrying another weapon, the sheriff said.
“He could be anywhere now,” Capers said.
The attack happened on a street near the city of Cleveland, north of Houston, where some residents say neighbors are often calmed by gunfire.
The victims range in age from 8 to 31 and are believed to be all from Honduras, Capers said. All were “shot in the neck,” he said.
The attack was the latest in a spate of gun violence that has hit the U.S. so far this year at a record pace of mass shootings, some involving semi-automatic rifles.
The massacre has taken place in a variety of locations — a Nashville school, a Kentucky bank, a Southern California dance hall and now a rural Texas neighborhood inside a one-story house.
Capers said there were 10 people in the home — some of whom had moved there earlier in the week — but no one else was injured. He said two of the victims apparently tried to protect the two children by putting them in a bedroom.
A total of three children covered in blood in the home were taken to the hospital but were found unharmed, Capers said.
FBI spokeswoman Christina Garza said investigators do not believe everyone in the home is a single family member. The name of the deceased is Sonia Argentina Guzman (25). Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Julissa Molina Rivera, 31; Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18; and Daniel Enrique Lasso, 8. It’s unclear how they were related, but they all lived in the same house, CBS Houston affiliate KHOU reported.
The confrontation led neighbors to follow, walking up to the fence and telling the suspect to stop shooting, Capers said. The suspect told them it was his property, Capers said, and a man in the home got a video of him walking up to the front door with a rifle.
The shooting took place on a rural pot-holed road where single-storey houses sit on spacious 1-acre plots and are surrounded by a dense canopy of trees. A horse can be seen behind the victim’s house, a dog and chickens roam the front yard of Oropeza’s house.
Rene Arevalo Sr., who lives a few houses down, said he heard gunshots around midnight but didn’t think anything of it.
“It’s a normal thing that people do around here, especially on Fridays after work,” Arevalo said. “They came home and started drinking in their backyard and started shooting there.”
Capers said his deputies had been to Oropeza’s home at least once before and talked to him about “shooting his gun in the yard.” It is not clear whether any action was taken at that time. At a press conference Saturday evening, the sheriff said it may be illegal to fire a gun on your own property, but he did not say whether Oropeza had previously broken the law.
Capers said the new arrivals at the home moved from Houston earlier in the week, but he said he didn’t know if they planned to stay there.
Across the United States, there have been at least 18 shootings that have killed four or more people since Jan. 1, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern University. Violence stems from a variety of motives: murder-suicide and domestic violence; gang revenge; school shootings; and workplace violence.
Texas has faced several mass shootings in recent years, including last year’s attack Robb Elementary School in Uvalde; A Racist attack at El Paso Walmart in 2019; and a A gunman opened fire at a church in the small town of Sutherland Springs in 2017.
Texas Republican leaders have consistently rejected calls for new gun restrictions, including this year over protests from several families whose children were killed in Uvalde.
A few months ago, Arevalo said Oropeza threatened to kill him after his dog got loose in 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 because Texas is a state where you don’t know who has a gun and who’s going to react that way.”