The man wanted by law enforcement for the killings of five Texas neighbors – including a 9-year-old boy – had entered the US illegally and been deported by immigration officials at least four times, a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement source said.
The suspect, identified by ICE as Francisco Oropesa Perez-Torres, was first removed by an immigration judge in March 2009, the ICE source told CNN on Monday.
“At an unknown time and location, Perez-Torres unlawfully reentered the United States, and was apprehended and removed several more times by ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations in September 2009, January 2012, and July 2016,” the source said.
Oropesa’s current immigration status is unclear, and it is not known how long he had been in the US since he was last deported.
Authorities are now pleading for the public’s help in their search for Oropesa, 38, who they say opened fire after he was asked to stop shooting his rifle near a neighboring family’s home in Cleveland, a city of about 8,000 people northeast of Houston.
Oropesa is considered armed and dangerous, an FBI official said, as more than 250 law enforcement officers and $80,000 in reward money have been devoted to capturing him. The massacre is among more than 180 US mass shootings in just the first four months of the year and, like others, seemingly stemmed from an ordinary encounter.
About 10 to 20 minutes before Friday’s massacre, Wilson Garcia and two other men had walked over to Oropesa’s yard to ask him to stop shooting so close to their home because their baby was sleeping, Garcia told CNN. They’d asked Oropesa to shoot on the other side of his property, he said.
The suspect refused, and Garcia said he would call police.
“We walked inside and my wife was talking to the police, and we called five times because he was being more threatening,” Garcia recalled.
“We saw him, he was leaving his property and cocked his gun,” the father said. “I told my wife to get inside because he cocked his gun and he might come threaten us. So my wife said, ‘You go inside, I don’t think he will fire at me because I’m a woman, I’ll stay here at the door.’”
The gunman later came to Garcia’s home, shooting his wife, Sonia Argentina Guzman, in the doorway before killing three other adults and Garcia’s son, Daniel Enrique Laso-Guzman, the grieving father said.
“One of the people who died saw when my wife fell to the ground,” Garcia told CNN.
“She told me to throw myself out the window because my children were already without a mother. So one of us had to stay alive to take care of them. She was the person who helped me jump out the window.”
The woman who helped Garcia flee did not survive, he said.
“Two people who died were protecting my 2 1/2-year-old daughter and my 1-month-old son,” Garcia said, sobbing. “They protected him with a bunch of clothing so the murderer wouldn’t kill him, too. So just imagine what we’re feeling now. It was horrible.”
When police arrived, they found the victims had been shot “almost execution style” at close range above the neck, San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers told local media.
Before the deadly confrontation at Garcia’s home, five 911 calls had been made to report the gunman shooting his rifle outdoors, the father said.
Authorities got to the scene as fast as they could, Capers said. But his small force covers a large county, he said, and the home is about 15 minutes outside town.
The other victims have been identified as Diana Velázquez Alvarado, 21; Julisa Molina Rivera, 31, and José Jonathan Cásarez, 18. Daniel Enrique Laso-Guzman turned 9 in January, Garcia said; authorities previously said he was 8.
They are among the 248 victims killed in US mass shootings in just the first four months of this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The non-profit, like CNN, defines mass shootings as those in which four or more people are shot, not including a gunman.
A GoFundMe account has been established to help the families of the victims killed.
Extensive search yields ‘zero leads’
A collective $80,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of Oropesa.
“We consider him armed and dangerous,” said James Smith, FBI Houston special agent in charge. “He’s out there, and he’s a threat to the community.”
The suspect had been convicted of driving while intoxicated in Montgomery County, Texas, in 2012. Court records reviewed by CNN indicate he was sentenced to 30 days in the county jail and released a few days early with credit for time served.
Authorities had “zero leads” on Oropesa’s location as of Sunday afternoon, Smith said, adding the Mexican national could be anywhere.
Oropesa’s wife has been interviewed multiple times and is in “constant contact” with investigators, the sheriff said.
In the past, the suspect’s wife and Garcia’s wife “would always chat,” and the two families didn’t have problems with each other, Garcia said.
The suspect “even helped us chop down a tree and he would come by the house,” Garcia said.
But something set Oropesa off the night of the massacre, as he tried to shoot survivors before fleeing, the grieving father said.
Authorities had been tracking Oropesa’s cell phone but found it abandoned Saturday along with some clothes, Capers said. Tracking dogs picked up a scent from the items, but the trail vanished, Capers said.
Officers have been going door-to-door seeking security camera footage or any other information residents may have, Capers said.
The hefty reward for Oropesa’s arrest will be advertised on Spanish-language billboards in the area, urging the public to submit tips, the sheriff said.
“I can pretty much … guarantee you he’s contacted some of his friends,” said Smith, the FBI agent. “We just don’t know which friends they are, and that is what we need from the public is any type of information.”
Sheriff gets emotional talking about the victims
When the shooting began, Garcia – the widower and newly single father of two – was gathered at his home with relatives, godparents and friends, he said.
“The other people that were there would visit over the weekend to spend time with us,” he said. “They were godparents and friends.”
After officials confirmed those killed were all Honduran nationals, the Honduran Foreign Ministry is preparing to repatriate their remains, it said.
“The Government of Honduras deeply regrets the loss of these valuable lives and accompanies all their loved ones in their pain. We demand that the pertinent authorities arrest the perpetrator of this terrible event and apply the full weight of the law,” the agency said in a statement.
There had been 15 people in the house at the time of the shooting, Garcia told CNN. Authorities previously had said there were 10 people in the home.
The sheriff got emotional Sunday when he spoke about Daniel Enrique Laso-Guzman, the young boy who was killed
“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.”
CNN’s Marlon Sorto, Ashley Killough, Roxanne Garcia, David Williams, Claudia Dominguez, Raja Razek, Andy Rose, Keith Allen and Christina Maxouris contributed to this report.