CLEVELAND, Texas (AP) — A four-day manhunt in Texas for a gunman accused of killing five neighbors ended Tuesday not far from the site of the shooting when authorities, acting on a tip, said they found the suspect hiding underneath a pile of laundry in the closet of a house.
Francisco Oropeza, 38, was captured without incident near Houston and about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from his home in the rural town of Cleveland, where authorities say he went next door and shot his neighbors with an AR-style rifle after some of them had asked him to stop firing rounds in his yard because it was keeping a baby awake.
“They can rest easy now, because he is behind bars,” Capers said of the families of the victims. “He will live out his life behind bars for killing those five.”
The arrest happened near Conroe, ending what had become a widening dragnet that had grown to more than 250 people from multiple jurisdictions. As recently as Tuesday morning, the FBI said that Oropeza “could be anywhere,” underlining how investigators for days struggled to get a sense of his whereabouts and candidly acknowledged they had no leads.
Drones and scent-tracking dogs were used during a widening search that included combing a heavily wooded forest a few miles from the scene. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott offered $50,000 in reward money as the search dragged late into the weekend.
FBI spokesperson Connor Hagan said the three agencies that went in to arrest Oropeza were the U.S. Marshals, Texas Department of Public Safety and US Border Patrol’s BORTAC team.
The alleged shooter is a Mexican national who has been deported four times, according to U.S. immigration officials. The gunman was first deported in March 2009 and last in July 2016. He was also deported in September 2009 and January 2012.
Capers said that prior to Friday’s shooting deputies had been called to the suspect’s house at least one other time previously over shooting rounds in his yard.
All of the victims were from Honduras. Wilson Garcia, who survived the shooting, said friends and family in the home tried to hide and shield themselves and children after Oropeza walked up to the home and began firing, killing his wife first at the front door.
Garcia said Oropeza came running over to their house loading an AR-style rifle after he and two other people had asked him to stop firing off rounds late at night. Garcia said Oropeza told him he could do what he wanted on his property.
After Oropeza rejected the request, the family repeatedly called law enforcement, Garcia recalled Sunday. He said while waiting for help to arrive, Oropeza ran toward him and reloaded. Garcia’s house was packed with 15 people, several of them friends who had been there to join Garcia’s wife on a church retreat.
Garcia’s 25-year-old wife, Sonia Argentina Guzman, and 9-year-old son, Daniel Enrique Laso, were killed, along with Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Julisa Molina Rivera, 31; and Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18. Two of the victims were shot while shielding Garcia’s baby and 2-year-old daughter.
Osmán Velásquez, Diana’s father, said Tuesday that his daughter had recently gotten residency and 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.”