How a complaint over gun noise turned into a mass murder: What we know about Texas shooting

Five people, including a nine-year-old boy, were killed in the Friday night violence in San Jacinto County. After a four-day manhunt, their neighbour was captured on suspicion of their murders. Andrea Blanco and Rachel Sharp report

Wednesday 03 May 2023 13:11 BST
(Getty)

A family asked their neighbour to stop firing his gun so that their baby could sleep.

Minutes later, five people – including a nine-year-old boy – were dead.

Four days on from the horror mass shooting, their alleged killer was finally taken into custody at a home close to the nearby city of Cut and Shoot.

Francisco Oropesa was discovered on Tuesday (2 May) hiding under a pile of laundry in a closet of a house linked to one of his family members. He is now facing five murder charges.

The massacre unfolded on Friday night (28 April) in Cleveland, Texas, when the family asked their neighbour Mr Oropesa to stop shooting rounds in his yard because they had children trying to sleep.

Mr Oropesa then allegedly entered his neighbour’s home with an AR-15 style rifle and opened fire on anyone in his path.

Five victims – Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25,her nine-year-old son Daniel Enrique Laso, Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21, Julisa Molina Rivera, 31, and Josué Jonatán Cáceres, 18 – were shot dead “execution style” from the neck up, police said.

Here’s everything we know about the shooting:

The motive

The shooting was reported at around 10.30pm on Friday night (28 April) on the 100 block of Walters Road in the Trails End area in the community about 45 miles (72 kilometres) northeast of Houston.

Night shift patrol deputies were dispatched to a residence in reference to a harassment complaint.

Five dead, including eight-year-old, in Texas shooting

Authorities have said that a family member walked up to the fence and requested the gunman stopped shooting rounds in his own backyard. The suspect then allegedly refused saying that it was his property.

Around 10 to 20 minute later, he entered the property armed with an AR-15 and opened fire.

“The neighbours walked over and said … ‘Hey man, can you not do that, we’ve got an infant in here trying to sleep’ or whatever,” Mr Capers said.

“They went back in their house and then we have a video of him walking up their driveway with his AR-15.”

On their way there, they received multiple 911 calls of an active shooter incident at the dispatch location.

Deputies arrived on the scene to find three children covered in blood were transported to the hospital, where they were determined to be uninjured, while two other witnesses at the scene were evaluated by first responders and released.

The SJCSO also said that Mr Oropesa “has been known to shoot his 223 out in his front yard, which is evident by the shell casings that are laying in the front yard”.

The victims

Ten people were in the residence at the time of the tragedy.

The fatal victims have been identified as Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25, and her nine-year-old son Daniel Enrique Laso, Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21, Julisa Molina Rivera, 31, and Josué Jonatán Cáceres, 18, according to 12 News.

All five victims were originally from Honduras.

Velazquez’s husband Jefrey Rivera told the Honduran network HCH that his wife died protecting their children. He said she hid in a closet with some of the children in the home. The two other deceased women were found lying on top of two children covered in blood. Police said on Saturday that they died protecting the two minors, who are both believed to have survived.

The house where the shooting took place
The house where the shooting took place (AP)

Recounting the terrifying moments leading up to the massacre, Mr Rivera said that someone in his household asked Mr Oropesa to stop shooting rounds in his yard because they had several children in the home who were trying to sleep.

Mr Rivera said that when he saw his very intoxicated neighbour approaching with an AR-15 rifle, he threw a machete at him in an attempt to protect other relatives in the home.

“I realised he was coming in our direction while armed with a rifle, so I tried to find something to defend myself with and found a machete.” Mr Rivera told HCH in Spanish. “But by the time I found the machete, shots had already been fired.

Mr Oropesa and Mr Rivera then had a brief confrontation, in which the gunman allegedly said, ‘I’m going to kill you today.’

Mr Rivera then reportedly said: “I’m going to kill you first because you’ve already killed my family.” He said he managed to escape the violence and called authorities.

Guzman, meanwhile, was killed when she heroically confronted the gunman at the doorway to her home, according to her grieving husband Wilson Garcia.

Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25, and her son Daniel Enrique Laso, nine
Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25, and her son Daniel Enrique Laso, nine (Sourced)

Mr Garcia spoke at a vigil for his son Daniel on Sunday night where he revealed how his wife Guzman bravely thought she could stop the gunman opening fire.

He said he saw the suspect running towards his house while reloading his AR-15-style rifle with ammunition and urged his wife to get inside away from the gunman. But she refused – and went to confront Mr Oropesa instead.

“I told my wife, ‘Get inside. This man has loaded his weapon,’” said Mr Garcia, according to The Associated Press.

“My wife told me to go inside because ‘He won’t fire at me, I’m a woman.’”

Guzman was wrong and she became the first victim shot and killed in the horror attack that has sent shockwaves across the country. Mr Oropesa then went “room to room” opening fire on the victims, said Mr Garcia.

Mr Garcia also revealed that the family had made five separate calls to police in the 10 to 20 minutes between the initial confrontation and the massacre unfolding.

During each call, Mr Garcia said police reassured them that help was on its way.

But officers had not yet arrived when Mr Garcia said he saw the suspect entering his family home and opening fire.

Guzman’s cousin told HCH that she had moved to the US eight years ago, while her son had spent five years living in America.

Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25, Daniel Enrique Laso, 9, Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21, Julisa Molina Rivera, 31, and Josué Jonatán Cáceres, 18, were all killed
Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25, Daniel Enrique Laso, 9, Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21, Julisa Molina Rivera, 31, and Josué Jonatán Cáceres, 18, were all killed (GoFundMe)

The mother of three leaves behind a two-year-old daughter, a six-month-old baby and her husband.

Her family has created a GoFundMe to raise funds so Guzman and her son’s remains can be repatriated.

“I just spoke with her on the phone yesterday and now they’re sending her back to me in a casket,” Guzman’s mother Francia Guzman also told HCH through tears.

The suspect

Mr Oropesa is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who had been deported from the US four times before the shooting.

A US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) source told The Independent that Mr Oropesa, whose full name is reportedly Francisco Oropesa Perez-Torres, was first removed by an immigration judge in March 2009.

After that, Mr Oropesa reentered the United States at an unknown time and location but was removed again in September 2009, January 2012 and July 2016.

It is not clear what the married father’s status is at present.

Authorities were forced to admit on Sunday that they released an incorrect photo of Mr Oropesa – and had been spelling his name incorrectly as “Oropeza”.

Prior to his arrest, FBI Special Agent James Smith described him as “armed and dangerous”.

“We're still out there trying to find this individual. We consider him armed and dangerous. And we're not going to stop until we actually arrest him and bring him into custody. But he is out there, and he is a threat to the community,” he said.

Francisco Oropesa, 38
Francisco Oropesa, 38 (KHOU11)

”So I don't want anyone to think something different than that. He is a threat to the community, and we need the community's help to hopefully locate him and soon and take him off the streets tonight.

“But however, I will say this, we do not ask the community to take the matters into their own hands. Please call 911 if you happen to see this individual out there.”

Mr Oropesa is described as approximately 5’8” tall, last seen wearing blue jeans with a black shirt and work boots and with short black hair.

An arrest warrant charged him with five counts of murder and burglary.

The manhunt

Mr Oropesa was said to be armed and dangerous, with police admitting on Sunday (30 April) that they had “zero leads” as to his whereabouts.

Earlier reports by NPR suggested police had located and surrounded the suspect somewhere in the Houston area, but this later turned out to be incorrect.

On Sunday night (30 April), the FBI said in a statement that Mr Oropesa was considered armed and dangerous and the public was advised not to approach him.

Authorities continued searching in the vicinity of the crime scene. Mr Capers said that authorities had widened the search to as far as 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the scene of the shooting.

Francisco Oropesa was tracked down to Cut and Shoot on Tuesday
Francisco Oropesa was tracked down to Cut and Shoot on Tuesday (Especial)

Mr Oropesa’s cellphone was initially being tracked but it was found abandoned along with some clothing on Saturday (29 April).

Tracking dogs managed to pick up his scent before losing it in the waterways.

Despite the efforts, SJCSO Sheriff Greg Capers said on Sunday (30 April) that investigators had “zero leads” and admitted he “could be anywhere,”

A reward of $80,000 was offered for information leading to his arrest and the reward was advertised on Spanish-language billboards in the hopes that someone would speak out. Investigators said they believed he was in contact with friends.

Mr Oropesa’s wife was said to have been in “constant contact” with investigators.

The capture

Mr Oropesa was captured on Tuesday (2 May) following a dramatic four-day manhunt, after the FBI received a tip-off about his whereabouts and carried out surveillance on his wife.

The 38-year-old accused gunman was found hiding under a pile of laundry in the closet of a home in Cut and Shoot, a city close to the town of Cleveland.

Sheriff Greg Capers, of San Jacinto County, said at a press conference that the “coward” was taken into custody without incident.

“He was caught hiding in a closet underneath some laundry,” the sheriff said. “They effectively made the arrest. He is uninjured.”

A woman was also detained at the scene.

Press Conference: Texas man accused of killing 5 people captured

Authorities said that a mystery tipster helped lead them to the suspected mass killer.

FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jimmy Paul said that the bureau received a tip to its tip line at 5.15pm local time on Tuesday.

Officials acted on the tip and also tracked Mr Oropesa’s wife to a home near Cut and Shoot that was linked to one of his family members.

Mr Oropesa was arrested at 6.30pm local time.

“We just want to thank the person who had the courage and bravery to call in the suspect’s location,” said Agent Paul.

Mr Oropesa is scheduled to appear before a magistrate in San Jacinto County on Wednesday, CNN reported.

He was arrested on five counts of murder and is being held on $5m bond.

Greg Abbott slammed for response

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been slammed for his response to the latest incident of gun violence in his state.

The Republican governor, who has severely relaxed gun laws in Texas since taking office, failed to address the mass shooting for almost two days.

Then, on Sunday, he finally broke his silence, with a statement on social media in which he announced his office was contributing a $50,000 reward to catch the suspect – and labelled the victims “illegal immigrants”.

“Announcing a $50K reward for a @TxDPS top 10 fugitive who is in the country illegally and killed five illegal immigrants Friday night. I also directed #OperationLoneStar to be on the lookout for the criminal and any attempts to flee the country,” he said.

The statement sparked an instant backlash with social media users quickly correcting his use of the words “illegal immigrants” with the term “people”.

Star Trek actor George Takei was among those to slam Mr Abbott, tweeting: “This is despicable. I would have thought bringing up the immigration status of the innocent victims of this senseless violence would be beneath even you. But I was wrong.”

Mr Abbott was later forced to walk back his comments in an admission that it was not even a factual statement.

“We’ve since learned that at least one of the victims may have been in the United States legally,” his spokesperson Renae Eze said in a statement on Monday.

“We regret if the information was incorrect and detracted from the important goal of finding and arresting the criminal.”

Prior to the inflammatory statement about “illegal immigrants”, Mr Abbott had come under fire for his radio silence on the incident.

The political leader, who tweeted a picture of his pet dog along with the caption “all smiles for the weekend” on Saturday, waited almost two days before commenting on the matter.

“This is the Governor of Texas’ tweet AFTER learning that a gunman armed with an assault rifle opened fire on a family in his state, killing five people, including an 8-year-old,” Ms Watts tweeted.

Brett Cross, who lost his son Uziyah in a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde last year, also lashed out at the Republican governor for not making mention of the deadly shooting.

Mr Abbott’s response is a far cry from the stance of local officials.

In Sunday’s press conference, Sheriff Capers became emotional as he said “I don’t care” if the victims were in Texas legally or illegally.

“My heart is with this eight-year-old little boy, I don’t care if he was here legally, I don’t care if he was here illegally, he was in my county,” he said.

“Five people died in my county. And that’s where my heart is, in my county protecting my people to the best of my ability.”

More than 170 mass shooting in the US this year

The US is setting a devastating record pace for mass killings in 2023, according to the Associated Press. The violence is sparked by a range of motives: murder-suicides and domestic violence; gang retaliation; school shootings and workplace vendettas. All those listed as mass killings in the report have taken the lives of four or more people since 1 January.

Reacting to the deadly violence on Friday night, gun safety advocates slammed lax weapon laws in Texas.

“Assault rifles were designed to be used by highly trained soldiers in battle, not marketed to violent men to carry out revenge fantasies,” gun violence prevention activist and Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts tweeted on Saturday.

“From Newtown to Nashville, Las Vegas to Uvalde, these weapons of war are chosen and used to inflict as much harm as quickly as possible.”

Greg Abbott has relaxed the state’s gun laws
Greg Abbott has relaxed the state’s gun laws (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

In total, Texas has been rocked by at least six major mass shootings under Mr Abbott’s watch, according to a Texas Tribune database.

It was November 2017 – two years into his first term – when 26 people were murdered and another 20 wounded when a 26-year-old gunman opened fire during Sunday service at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs.

Just six months later in May 2018, a 17-year-old student killed eight classmates and two students at Santa Fe High School.

One year later in August 2019, a domestic terrorist attack at a Walmart in El Paso left 23 shoppers and store workers dead and dozens more injured.

Then, on 24 May 2022, 19 students aged just nine to 11 and two teachers were shot dead at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde by an 18-year-old gunman who had legally bought an AR-15-style rifle in the state just days after his birthday.

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