By JUAN LOZANO and NOMAAN MERCHANT
CLEVELAND, Texas (AP) — Authorities near Houston say they have caught a man suspected of killing five of his neighbors, including a 9-year-old boy, with an AR-style rifle after the family confronted him late at night about firing rounds in his yard.
Francisco Oropeza, 38, was arrested Tuesday, four days after the shooting late Friday in the town of Cleveland, San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said. He said Oropeza was found hiding in the closet of a home, under a pile of laundry, after investigators acted on a tip.
The capture happened near Conroe, which is roughly 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the home authorities say Oropeza fled after shooting his neighbors and setting off a widening manhunt that had grown to more than 250 people from multiple jurisdictions. Montgomery County Sheriff Rand Henderson said Oropeza was was arrested without incident
“They can rest easy now, because he is behind bars,” Capers said of the families of the victims. “He will live out his life behind bars for killing those five.”
Police had used drones and scent-tracking dogs during the wide search for Oropeza that included combing a heavily wooded forest a few miles from the scene. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott offered $50,000 in reward money as the search dragged late into the weekend and the FBI acknowledged that they had little indication as to Oropeza’s whereabouts.
The alleged shooter is a Mexican national who has been deported four times, according to U.S. immigration officials. The gunman was first deported in March 2009 and last in July 2016. He was also deported in September 2009 and January 2012.
San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said that prior to the shooting deputies had been called to the suspect’s house at least one other time previously over shooting rounds in his yard.
All of the victims were from Honduras. Wilson Garcia, who survived the shooting, said friends and family in the home tried to hide and shield themselves and children after Oropeza walked up to the home and began firing, killing his wife first at the front door.
Garcia said Oropeza came running over to their house loading an AR-style rifle after he and two other people had asked him to stop firing off rounds late at night because a baby inside was trying to sleep. Garcia said Oropeza told him he could do what he wanted on his property.
In offering the reward, Abbot called the victims “illegal immigrants,” a partially false statement that his office walked back and apologized for Monday after drawing wide backlash over drawing attention to their immigration status. Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze said they had since learned that one of the victims may have been in the country legally.
The victims were identified as Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Julisa Molina Rivera, 31; Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18; Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25; and Daniel Enrique Laso, 9.
Osmán Velásquez, Diana’s father, said Tuesday that his daughter had recently gotten residency and had traveled to the United States without documents eight years ago with the help of a sister, who was already living there.
“Her sister convinced me to let her take my daughter. She told me the United States is a country of opportunities and that’s true,” he said. But I never imagined it was just for this.”