More than 200 law enforcement officers continue their search for Francisco Oropeza, 38, who fled after the alleged shooting Friday evening. Now, authorities have said Oropeza could be anywhere.
With zero tips or leads to Oropeza’s whereabouts, the state of Texas is now offering a $50,000 reward for the apprehension of the suspect. Other counties have thrown in another $5,000 and the FBI is offering an additional $25,000 reward, an officer announced at a press conference Sunday.
“I can tell you right now, we have zero leads,” James Smith, the FBI special agent in charge, told reporters while again asking the public for tips in the rural town of Cleveland, where the shooting took place.
Law enforcement is hoping that the reward will encourage people to come forward with any information they might have on the suspect’s location.
Investigators found clothes and a phone while combing a rural area that includes dense layers of forest, but tracking dogs lost the scent, San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said. According to police, Oropeza has a tattoo on his right forearm.
Police recovered the AR-15-style rifle that Oropeza allegedly used in the shootings but authorities were not sure if he was carrying another weapon, the sheriff said. Law enforcement said Oropeza is still considered armed and dangerous.
“Pretty much can guarantee he’s contacted his friends. We don’t know who those friends are and that is what we need from the public because we are running into dead ends,” Smith said.
It is unknown how long Oropeza has lived at the home, but his wife is cooperating with authorities.
Abbott said both Oropeza and the victims were living in the country illegally. The governor has also directed law enforcement along the border to be on the lookout in case Oropeza tries to flee the country.
The attack happened near the town of Cleveland, north of Houston, on a street where some residents say neighbors often unwind by firing off guns.
“Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of the five victims that were taken in this senseless act of violence,” said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. “I continue working with state and local officials to ensure they have all available resources to respond to this horrific crime. I thank the men and women in law enforcement who are tirelessly working to ensure this criminal is caught and brought to justice.”
Capers said the victims were between the ages of 9 and 31 years old and that all were believed to be from Honduras. All were shot “from the neck up,” he said.
Capers said there were 10 people in the house — some of whom had just moved there earlier in the week — but that 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.
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, 9. All victims were believed to be from Honduras.
A vigil was held for Laso on Sunday afternoon at the local elementary school.
Authorities had also previously stated that Laso was 8 years old, but his father and school officials said Sunday that the third-grader was 9.
“My heart is with this 8-year-old little boy. I don’t care if he was here legally or illegally, he was here in my county, 5 people died in my county, and that’s where my heart is,” Capers said during the press conference.
The attack was the latest act of gun violence in what has been a record pace of shootings in the U.S. so far this year, some of which have also involved semiautomatic rifles.
The killings have played out in a variety of places — a Nashville school, a Kentucky bank, a Southern California dance hall and now a rural Texas neighborhood inside a single-story home.