The wanted Texas man accused of fatally shooting five neighbors, including an 8-year-old boy, “could be anywhere now,” authorities admitted over the weekend.
Francisco Oropeza, 38, is still on the run after Friday night’s mass shooting in San Jacinto County, where he allegedly “executed” his victims after the residents asked him to stop firing off rounds in his yard because they had a baby sleeping next-door.
Sheriff Greg Capers said Saturday that authorities — led by the FBI — had widened the hunt for Oropeza to as far as 20 miles from the town of Cleveland where the slayings took place.
Authorities recovered a phone and clothing while searching nearby thick forests for the suspect, who they at first thought they had cornered, Capers said. But police dogs then lost the scent.
Cops also found the AR-15-style rifle that Oropeza is accused of using for his bloodbath, but he still may be carrying other weapons, officials said.
“He could be anywhere now,” Capers said at the briefing, noting that Oropeza is considered armed and dangerous.
The dead victims were between 8 and 31 years old, and all are believed to be Honduran, authorities said.
They were each shot “from the neck up,” Capers said.
Those slain have been identified as Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25; Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Julisa Molina Rivera, 31; Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18, and Daniel Enrique Laso, 8.
The shooting occurred about 45 miles north of Houston, on a street where some neighbors said people have been known to unwind by firing guns.
There were 10 people in the targeted home at the time of the shooting, although no one else was hurt, officials said. Some of those in the home had only moved in a few days earlier.
Two of the murdered victims were found in a bedroom with their bodies over a pair of kids — apparently in an attempt to shield the little ones, Capers said.
Three blood-covered children in the home survived the massacre, he said.
There was more than one family in the home, authorities said.
The bloodshed occurred after at least some of the targeted neighbors had walked up to the suspect’s fence and asked him to stop off his gun because they had a baby sleeping, Capers said.
Oropeza responded that he was on his property, the official said. There is video of the gunman then going to their front door with his rifle, officials said.
A local resident, Rene Arevalo Sr., said he heard the bullets but that he shrugged them off.
“It’s a normal thing people do around here, especially on Fridays after work,” Arevalo said of the gunfire. “They get home and start drinking in their backyards and shooting out there.”
He said that a few months ago, Oropeza threatened to kill his pit bull after it got loose. The suspect ended up chasing the dog around with his truck, Arevalo said.
“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 tell her that, because Texas is a state where you don’t know who has a gun and who is going to react that way.”
Sheriff’s deputies had previously been to Oropeza’s home at least once because of “shooting his gun in the yard,” Capers said. It wasn’t immediately clear what if action was taken against the suspect at the time.
Capers only noted that shooting off a weapon even on your own property can be illegal.
Anyone with information on the suspect’s whereabouts should call the sheriff’s office at 936-653-4367, Capers said.
The deadly assault was only the latest mass shooting in the US, as the country keeps on its record pace for such horrific events, which have included locations such as a Nashville school, a Kentucky bank and a Southern California dance hall.
So far this year, there have been at least 18 shootings that have each left four or more people dead, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University.
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The motives have ranged from murder-suicides to gang retaliation and workplace vendettas.
Last year in Texas, there was the heinous attack at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde that left 19 little kids and two teachers dead; a racist gundown at an El Paso Walmart in 2019 in which 23 people were killed, and a gunman opening fire at a church in the tiny town of Sutherland Springs in 2017 that murdered 26 people.
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