By JUAN A. LOZANO
CLEVELAND, Texas (AP) — The search in Texas for a gunman who fatally shot five neighbors with an AR-style rifle entered a third day Monday after authorities over the weekend widened a dragnet near Houston while acknowledging they had little sense of the killer’s possible whereabouts.
On Monday, a heavy presence of police converged in an area where the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office reported a possible sighting of the suspect, but later said none of the persons were found to be 38-year-old Francisco Oropeza after a search by officers, scent-tracking dogs and aerial units.
The false alarm was one of the first times since Friday’s shooting in the rural town of Cleveland that authorities had announced a possible sighting of Oropeza, underscoring how the ongoing search has continued to turn up nothing even as more and more people join in the manhunt.
By Sunday evening, authorities said more than 250 officers from multiple jurisdictions had joined the search, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott put up $50,000 in reward money for tips leading to Oropeza’s capture.
“I can tell you right now, we have zero leads,” James Smith, the FBI special agent in charge, said Sunday.
Oropeza is considered armed and dangerous after fleeing the area Friday night, likely on foot. San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said authorities had widened the search area beyond the scene of the shooting, which occurred after the suspect’s neighbors asked him to stop firing off rounds in his yard late at night because a baby was trying to sleep.
At a Sunday vigil in Cleveland, Wilson Garcia, the father of the 1-month-old, described the terrifying efforts inside his home by friends and family that night to escape, hide and shield themselves and children after Oropeza walked up to the home and began firing, killing his wife first at the front door.
Police recovered the AR-15-style rifle that they said Oropeza used in the shootings. Authorities were not sure if Oropeza was carrying another weapon after others were found in his home.
In total, authorities have put $80,000 in reward money on the table, most of it coming from Abbott. But the Texas governor also drew backlash on social media for referring to the victims as five “illegal immigrants” in a statement announcing the reward money. Law enforcement on the scene have not confirmed the citizenship status of the victims and an Abbott spokesperson did not immediately return a message Monday.
The Immigrant Legal Resource Center criticized Abbott on Twitter for “using social media to amplify language painting a specific narrative intended to alter the way you view + treat the people around you.”
At an event on Sunday to honor fallen police officers, Abbott said the suspect had been deported four times and had reentered the country illegally, according to The Houston Chronicle.
San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said he hoped the reward money would motivate people to provide information and that there were plans to put up billboards in Spanish to spread the word.
Veronica Pineda, 34, who lives across the street from the suspect’s home, said authorities had stopped by her house over the week to ask if they could search her property to see if the gunman might be hiding there. She said she was fearful that the gunman had not yet been captured.
“It is kind of scary,” she said. “You never know where he can be.”