The manhunt for a Texas man who allegedly shot his neighbors after they asked him to stop shooting in their yard stretched into a second day Sunday, with authorities saying the man could be anywhere.
Francisco Oropeza, 38, is on the run after a Friday night shooting that left five people dead, including an 8-year-old boy. San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said late Saturday that authorities had expanded the search to within 20 miles (32 kilometers) of the shooting.
On Sunday morning, the FBI’s Houston office released a new photo of Oropeza, taken in August 2022.
Investigators found clothing and a phone while combing the countryside, which includes thick layers of forest, but sniffer dogs lost the scent, Capers said.
The sheriff said police recovered the AR-15 type rifle Oropeza allegedly used in the shooting, but authorities were unsure if he had other weapons.
“He can be anywhere now,” Capers said.
The attack happened near the city of Cleveland, north of Houston, on a street where some residents say neighbors often relax by firing guns.
Capers said the victims ranged in age from 8 to 31 and were all believed to be from Honduras. All were shot “from the neck up,” he said.
The attack was the latest act of gun violence in what has been a record pace of mass shootings in the US so far this year, some of which have also involved semi-automatic rifles.
The mass murders have taken place in various locations—a school in Nashville, a bank in Kentucky, a dance hall in Southern California, and now a one-story house in rural Texas.
Capers said 10 people were in the home – some of whom had just moved in earlier in the week – but no one else was hurt. He said the two victims were found in a bedroom above the two children in an apparent attempt to protect them.
A total of three children found covered in blood inside the home were taken to the hospital but were not injured, Capers said.
FBI spokeswoman Christina Garza said investigators do not believe everyone in the home was part of the same family. The victims were identified as Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25; Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Hulisa Malina Rivera, 31; Jose Jonathan Casares, 18; and Daniel Enrique Lasso, 8 years old. It is not clear how they were related, but they all lived in the same house, CBS Houston affiliate KHOU reported.
The confrontation occurred after neighbors approached the fence and asked the suspect to stop shooting, Capers said. The suspect responded by telling them it was his property, Capers said, and one person inside the home got video of the suspect walking up to the front door with a rifle.
Filming took place on a potholed rural street where single-story homes sit on sprawling 1-acre lots and are surrounded by dense treetops. A horse could be seen behind the victim’s house, and a dog and chickens were roaming in the 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 regular thing to have people here, especially on Fridays after work,” Arevala said. “They come home and start drinking in their yards and shooting there.”
Capers said his deputies were at Oropeza’s home at least once and talked to him about “shooting a gun in the yard.” It was not clear if any action was taken at the time. At a press conference Saturday night, the sheriff said it may be illegal to fire a gun on one’s own property, but he did not say whether Oropeza had broken the law before.
Capers said the new arrivals to the home moved from Houston earlier in the week, but he said he didn’t know if they planned to stay there.
There have been at least 18 shootings that have killed four or more people since January 1, according to the US. database supported by the Associated Press and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern University. Violence is motivated by various motives: murder-suicides and domestic violence; gang violence; school shootings; and workplace vendettas.
Texas has experienced numerous mass shootings in recent years, including last year’s attack on Rob Elementary School in Uwald; a racist attack on Walmart in El Paso in 2019; and a A gunman opened fire on a church in the small town of Sutherland Springs in 2017.
Republican leaders in Texas have repeatedly rejected calls for new gun restrictions, including this year amid protests from several families whose children were killed in Uwald.
A few months ago, Arevala said Oropeza threatened to kill his dog after it wandered into the neighborhood and chased a pit bull in his truck.
“I keep telling my wife, ‘Stay away from the neighbors.’ Don’t argue with them. You never know how they’re going to react,” Arevala said. “I tell her that because Texas is a state where you don’t know who has a gun and who’s going to react that way.”