By JUAN A. LOZANO and NOMAAN MERCHANT
CLEVELAND, Texas (AP) — The partner of a Texas man suspected of killing five of his neighbors was arrested Wednesday for helping him elude capture, and at least one other person is expected to face similar charges, authorities said.
Divimara Lamar Nava had previously denied knowing where suspect Francisco Oropeza was, but authorities believe she hid him in the home where he was arrested late Tuesday, just 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the town of Cleveland, where Friday’s shooting took place, said Montgomery County Sheriff Rand Henderson. Oropeza had a personal connection to the home, which is where Lamar Nava also was arrested, according to Montgomery Chief Deputy Sheriff Tim Kean. He didn’t elaborate.
“I believe he thought he was in a safe spot,” Kean said.
Lamar Nava is being held at the Montgomery County jail on a felony charge of hindering the apprehension or prosecution of a known felon, according to online jail records, which note that the home where she was arrested is in the town of Conroe. Henderson identified Lamar Nava as Oropeza’s wife, though jail records list her as not being married but sharing a home address with him.
Several others have also been arrested, authorities said, although they only shared details about one of them, Domingo Castilla, whom they identified as a friend of Oropeza. Castilla was arrested on Tuesday in the Trail’s End neighborhood where the victims were shot, said San Jacinto County District Attorney Todd Dillon. Castilla was charged with marijuana possession but authorities also expect to charge him with obstructing Oropeza’s apprehension, Dillon said.
At a news conference Wednesday, Kean said he couldn’t go into details about the other people who were arrested, including how many.
Also Wednesday, Oropeza was charged with five counts of first-degree murder during a court hearing in jail, said San Jacinto County Justice of the Peace Judge Randy Ellisor. Bond is set at $1.5 million per count, for a total of $7.5 million, Ellisor said. Bond for Castilla was set at $5,000, he said. Oropeza is a Mexican national who has been deported four times between 2009 and 2016, according to U.S. immigration officials.
A four-day manhunt for Oropeza ended Tuesday when authorities, acting on a tip, said they found the suspect hiding underneath a pile of laundry in the closet of the Conroe house.
Police had previously spotted Oropeza on Monday afternoon in Montgomery County, prompting several schools to lock down, Chief Deputy Sheriff Tim Kean said at a news conference outside the county jail Wednesday.
“We did confirm that was him on foot, running, but we lost track of him,” Kean said.
Kean declined to comment on the tip that led authorities to the Conroe home, which he said was one that had not been previously checked by authorities.
The arrest came after authorities set up a widening dragnet of more than 250 people, drones and search dogs from multiple jurisdictions and offered $80,000 in reward money. The tip that finally ended the chase came at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday. A little more than an hour later, Oropeza was in custody, said FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jimmy Paul.
FBI spokesman Connor Hagan said authorities would not disclose the identity of the person who called in the tip — one of more than 200 he says investigators received.
The victims have been identified as Diana Velásquez Alvarado, 21; Julisa Molina Rivera, 31; Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18; Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25; and Daniel Enrique Laso, 9, all from Honduras. Velásquez Alvarado’s father, Osmán Velásquez, said she had recently obtained legal residency in the U.S.
When offering a reward for Oropeza’s capture, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called the victims “illegal immigrants,” which drew widespread backlash. His office apologized on Monday.
Velásquez Alvarado’s husband, Wilson Garcia, survived the shooting. He said friends and family in the home tried to hide and shield the children after Oropeza walked up to the home and began firing, killing his wife first at the front door.
A government official in Honduras said the remains of four of the victims would be repatriated. Velásquez Alvarado will be buried in the United States at the request of her sister and her husband, said Wilson Paz, general director of Honduras’ migrant protection service.
Osmán Velásquez said his daughter 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.”
Merchant reported from Washington. Associated Press reporters Jake Bleiberg in Dallas; Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas; and Marlon González in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, contributed to this report.