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Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images.
Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images.

Gov. Greg Abbott labels five killed individuals as, “illegal immigrants,” in first statement following last Friday’s mass shooting

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Federal authorities have now joined local law enforcement in Liberty County, Texas for the continued search for 38-year-old Mexican national, Francisco Oropesa, the alleged shooter who killed five of his next door neighbors, including an eight-year-old boy on Friday evening, April 28, in the small Texas town of Cleveland — 55 miles north of Houston. 

According to San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers, the victims were between the ages of eight and 31 years old and were believed to be all from Honduras. 

Authorities identified the victims as Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25; Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Julisa Molina Rivera, 31; Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18; and Daniel Enrique Laso, 8. 

The incident happened around 11:30 p.m., when an allegedly intoxicated Oropesa had been shooting rounds from his AR-15 rifle in the open-air of his yard, which according to several neighbors and residents of the small town, is a normal practice for many of the town's men, particularly on Friday nights heading into the weekend. 

Oropesa had been a neighbor of the family for nearly three years, with no prior incident before Friday’s shooting. 

When Wilson Garcia, the patriarch of the home, came over to kindly ask the man to keep it down — as they explained they had kids trying to sleep — the situation quickly escalated from a noise complaint to a massacre inside the home. 

Garcia warned Oropesa that he’d call police –– and did so five times. He’d later tell authorities that the police had said they were far away from the scene but that they were on their way.

More than 15 minutes later after the confrontation between property lines, Oropesa went over to the victims’ home where footage from a Ring doorbell camera showed him walking up to the front door with his rifle in hand. 

Garcia’s wife, Sonia, confronted Oropesa at the door, who was being told by her husband to not confront the man. 

He said he urged her to get inside. 

“I told my wife, ‘Get inside. This man has loaded his weapon,’” he said. “My wife told me to go inside because ‘He won’t fire at me, I’m a woman.’”

She was the first victim. 

Three other people, including two women who died shielding Garcia’s baby and two-year-old daughter, were killed. 

Garcia told reporters that one of the women told him to jump out the window following the death of his wife but he chose to stay, “because my children were without a mother and one of their parents had to stay alive to take care of them.”

Ten people were inside of the home at the time, according to Capers, with some having just moved there earlier in the week from Houston. No one else was injured. Two victims were found in a bedroom lying over two children in an apparent attempt to shield them. 

Three more children were found unharmed but covered in blood. Among the victims were Garcia’s wife and 8-year-old son. 

"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," Capers said. "Five people died in my county, and that is where my heart is — in my county protecting my people to the best of our ability."

Authorities were able to identify Oropesa as the shooter by an identity card issued by Mexican authorities to citizens living outside the country. Law enforcement have interviewed Oropesa’s wife multiple times, according to Capers.

In the dense woods nearby, a phone and the weapon in question were found. Police dogs then lost a scent that they believed would have led to Oropesa. 

Oropesa has been at-large since the tragedy on Friday night. 

“We do not know where he is. We do not have any tips right now as to where he may be,” said James Smith, the special agent in charge of the F.B.I. in the Houston area, told reporters at a news conference Sunday, May 30. 

“Right now, we have zero leads,” Smith added. 

Since Friday night, the search for the shooter has been continuous, with more than 200 police officers, including state troopers, searching as far as 20-miles away from the scene of the killings. 

Despite their efforts, as of publication, authorities have been unable to locate Oropesa, which prompted them to acknowledge to reporters on Sunday that not only is he still at-large, but he’s also considered a threat. 

What was originally a $50,000 award for any information leading to the shooter's capture had increased to $80,000 by Sunday. 

All the while, just under 200-miles away in the capital of Austin, Texas, Governor Greg Abbott offered condolences to the “five illegal immigrants,” who lost their lives. 

The infamous governor known for his hard stances on immigration and the border, gave a statement on Sunday, where he identified the five victims as “illegal immigrants,” and offered a $50,000 award as well as saying that Operation Lone Star — Abbott’s border security initiative — would be on the case. 

Following his statement, former politicians, and several immigration organizations came out to denounce the Governor’s choice of words to describe the five people killed in his state where Republican lawmakers have continuously axed any efforts relating to firearms restrictions, despite having confronted multiple mass shootings as of late, including the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde; a racist attack at an El Paso Walmart in 2019; and a gunman opening fire at a church in the tiny town of Sutherland Springs in 2017. 

Friday’s shooting adds to the nation’s total tally for mass gun shootings in 2023; at least 174 according to the Gun Violence Archive.  

Many immigrants come to America to escape violence in their homelands, only to find it in their home. 

"Five human beings lost their lives and Greg Abbott insists on labeling them 'illegal immigrants,'" said fellow Texan Julián Castro, the former Housing and Urban Development Secretary. 

That same Sunday, a grieving Mr. Garcia was at a vigil in Cleveland, TX where dozens of others, including the other survivors of the shooting, joined Garcia in prayer for his lost son and wife. 

“I have no words to describe what happened,” he said. “We are alive but there is no life, I was able to escape by a miracle.” 

As for Oropesa, this is not his first time getting in trouble with the law. Several neighbors in the past had called police regarding noise complaints from Oropesa’s constant shooting in his yard, including a drunk driving misdemeanor in 2009. 

The extensive manhunt is on day three, with over 250 law enforcement officers from over a dozen agencies actively searching for Oropesa, according to FBI Houston on Monday. 

Capers told reporters that they’d also be putting up billboards in Spanish to help with the manhunt. 

If you have information about Oropesa or the shooting, submit tips via http://tips.fbi.gov or 1-800-CALL-FBI (press option 1).

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