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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

After a neighbor’s complaint, gunman kills five people in Texas home

Law enforcement officers confer about the search for a man wanted in the fatal shooting of five people in Cleveland, Texas, on Friday night.

By María Jiménez Moya, Eduardo Medina and Jesús Jiménez

Francisco Oropeza was firing his gun in his yard again Friday night, rattling off loud bangs that were keeping Wilson Garcia’s baby awake.

So Garcia said he went over to his neighbor and asked if he could stop.

Oropeza, who authorities said had been drinking, said no. His yard, he said, his rules.

Garcia, 30, warned that he would call police. But after Oropeza, 38, walked back to his house, he reemerged with an AR-15.

He walked toward Garcia’s cream-colored home, where he shot and killed Garcia’s wife, who had called police and was standing near the entrance.

The rampage continued inside Garcia’s home, where authorities said Oropeza fatally shot four other people, “almost execution-style.”

“He wanted to kill us all to leave no evidence,” Garcia said in an interview.

The episode in Cleveland, about 45 miles northeast of Houston, has stunned a nation already weary of shootings seemingly set off by mundane mix-ups and interactions, such as a neighborly complaint.

This month, a 16-year-old in Missouri who rang the wrong doorbell was shot by a homeowner, a 20-year-old woman in upstate New York was fatally shot after driving into the wrong driveway and two cheerleaders in Texas were shot after one got into the wrong car.

Friday night’s shooting prompted a sprawling search for the gunman, who may have fled the area and remained at large as of Saturday evening.

Three other people were taken to hospitals after the shooting, which happened around 11:30 p.m. Their conditions were not immediately known. The victims were all from Honduras, officials said.

Four people were pronounced dead at the scene and a fifth person died at a hospital, the San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Office said.

The FBI identified the victims as: Garcia’s wife, Sonia Guzman, 25; Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Juliza Molina Rivera, 31; Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18; and Daniel Enrique Laso, 8. But there was conflicting information Saturday. Earlier in the day, authorities said that among the victims was a 15-year-old girl.

Several law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, were searching homes and wooded areas on foot and with drones to find Oropeza, San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said in a phone interview Saturday.

Capers told reporters that Oropeza was known to “frequently” fire an AR-15 in his front yard.

Garcia, who moved to the United States from Honduras three years ago, said he had “never had any problems” with Oropeza, who had once helped Garcia take down a tree.

Garcia said that after Oropeza shot his wife, the gunman chased him. Garcia escaped through a window and ran outside.

“I thought he was going to follow me,” he said. “But after he couldn’t catch me, he went back to the house to finish them off.”

Garcia said he went to a family member’s house to hide. But then he returned to his home.

“I came back for my two children,” he said. “They were hiding in the closet. The two women protecting them when they died — they were hugging them.”

According to Carlos Ramirez, Garcia’s brother, the two women who were killed were shielding a 6-week-old boy and a 3-year-old girl, who survived.

Ramiro Guzman, the brother of Garcia’s wife, said in a phone interview that after Garcia asked Oropeza to stop shooting near their house, he sensed danger and asked his sister to flee.

Guzman told him that she did not think Oropeza would hurt them and stayed put. But seconds later, the gunman shot her and quickly moved to the living room where he fatally shot Guzman’s nephew.

Guzman said he quickly grabbed his wife and 6-month-old son and hid in a closet as he heard the gunman continue to shoot family members. He tried calling police, but service was bad, so he called his aunt and asked her to call law enforcement.

“I could not get a hold of the police,” Guzman said in tears. “And he was killing my family.”

Robert Freyer, first assistant district attorney of the criminal district attorney’s office in San Jacinto County, said there were 10 people in the house, although Ramirez said there were 12.

“Everybody that was shot was shot from the neck up, almost execution-style,” Capers said.

Enrique Reina, foreign minister of Honduras, said on Twitter that the Honduran consulate was in contact with authorities in Texas and monitoring the situation.

“We demand that the full weight of the law be applied against those responsible for this crime,” he wrote in Spanish.

Susan Ard, a spokesperson for the Cleveland Independent School District, said the district was aware of one victim, a boy in the third grade, who attended Northside Elementary School.

“All of our prayers and thoughts are with the families and community impacted by this horrible tragedy,” she said.

In the rural community of mostly Latino families, neighbors said Saturday that the sound of gunfire in the area was a common occurrence.

Veronica Pineda, 34, said she did not know Oropeza and his family but that they had been living in the neighborhood for about five years. She said they were known for hosting parties late into the night.

Guadalupe Calderon, 47, who lives in the neighborhood, said that the shooting could have happened anywhere but that community members were surprised by the attack.

“We are all neighbors here, and we have to take care of one another,” she said. “Only God knows why he did it. Maybe they just didn’t get along.”

Guzman said he had left Honduras five years ago to escape violent gangs and to seek safety and family in Cleveland.

“We came here to escape violence,” he said, “and found it in America.”

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