Widening manhunt for Texas gunman slowed by 'zero leads'
CLEVELAND, Texas (AP) — A widening manhunt for a Texas gunman who killed five neighbors continued turning up nothing Sunday as officers knocked on doors, the governor put up $50,000 in reward money and the FBI acknowledged they had “zero leads” after nearly two days of searching.
“What we need from the public is any type of information, because right now we’re just we’re running into dead ends,” James Smith, the FBI's special agent in charge, said during an afternoon news conference. “I can tell you right now, we have zero leads.”
The search for the suspect has grown in scale since the Friday shooting, with more than 200 police from multiple jurisdictions searching for Francisco Oropeza, many going door to door, looking for the 38-year-old suspect and asking for tips. Local officials and the FBI also chipped in reward money, bringing the total to $80,000 for any information about Oropeza's whereabouts.
Oropeza is considered armed and dangerous after fleeing the area Friday night, likely on foot, San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said late Saturday. He said authorities had widened the search beyond the scene of the shooting, which occurred after the suspect's neighbors asked him to stop firing off rounds in his yard.
Capers said the suspect responded by telling them that it was his property. Doorbell camera video captured him walking up to the front door with a rifle.
Investigators found clothes and a phone while combing a rural area that includes dense layers of forest, but tracking dogs lost the scent, Capers said. Authorities were able to identify Oropeza by an identity card issued by Mexican authorities to citizens who reside outside the country, as well as the doorbell camera footage. He said police have also interviewed the suspect's wife multiple times.
Police recovered the AR-15-style rifle that they said Oropeza used in the shootings, but authorities were not sure if he was carrying another weapon, the sheriff said. There were other weapons in the suspect's home, he said.
“We’re looking for closure for this family,” said Capers, who said he hopes the reward money will “be a good motivator" to encourage someone turn the suspect in. Capers said there are plans to alert the public to the reward money in Spanish billboard ads.
The attack happened near the town of Cleveland, north of Houston, on a rural street where single-story homes sit on 1-acre lots and are surrounded by a thick canopy of trees. Some residents say neighbors often unwind by firing off guns.
Rene Arevalo Sr., who lives a few houses down, said he heard gunshots around midnight Friday but didn’t think anything of it.
“It’s a normal thing people do around here, especially on Fridays after work,” Arevalo said. “They get home and start drinking in their backyards and shooting out there.”
It was a much quieter scene Sunday. Police crime scene tape had been removed from around the victims' home. Some people stopped by to leave flowers.
An FBI agent, several Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and other officers could be seen walking around the neighborhood, going door to door and trying to speak with neighbors. The agent and officers declined to comment about what they were doing. One trooper stopped a red truck and asked to look inside before letting the driver continue on his way.
Veronica Pineda, 34, who lives across the street from the suspect’s home, said authorities asked if they could search her property to see if he might be hiding there.
“That’s good for them to do that,” said the mother of five, adding that she remained fearful because the gunman hasn't yet been captured.
“It is kind of scary. You never know where he can be,” she said. “I don’t think he will be here anymore.”
She said she didn't know Oropeza well but occasionally saw him, his wife and son ride their horses on the street and believes the family have lived there five or six years. Pineda said neighbors have called authorities in the past to complain about the firing of guns.
The victims of Friday's shooting were between the ages of 8 and 31 years old and all were believed to be from Honduras, Capers said. All were shot “from the neck up,” he said. A GoFundMe page was set up to repatriate the bodies of two victims, a mother and son, to their native country.
Enrique Reina, Honduras' secretary of foreign affairs and international cooperation, said on Twitter that the Honduran Consulate in Houston was contacting the families in connection with the repatriation of remains as well as U.S. authorities to keep apprised of the investigation.
The FBI in Houston said in a tweet on Sunday that it was referring to the suspect as Oropesa, not Oropeza, to “better reflect his identity in law enforcement systems.” His family lists their name as Oropeza on a sign outside their yard, as well as in public records.
The attack was the latest act of gun violence in what has been a record pace of mass shootings in the U.S. so far this year, some of which have also involved semiautomatic rifles.
Capers said there were 10 people in the house — some of whom had just moved there earlier in the week — but no one else was injured. He said two of the victims were found in a bedroom laying over two children in an apparent attempt to shield them.
A total of three children found covered in blood in the home were taken to a hospital but found to be uninjured, Capers said. He said they were staying with family members.
FBI spokesperson Christina Garza said investigators do not believe those at the home were members of a single family. The victims were identified as Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25; Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Julisa Molina Rivera, 31; Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18; and Daniel Enrique Laso, 8.
Associated Press Writer Susan Haigh in Norwich, Connecticut, contributed to this report.
Juan A. Lozano, The Associated Press