CLEVELAND, Tex. — When gunfire began blasting next door, waking a 6-week-old baby, several of the 16 people inside Sonia Guzmán’s home — all members of an extended family — decided it was time to call police.
They called 911 “at least five or six times,” on the night of the shooting, Guzmán’s brother Ramiro told The Washington Post. Each time, he said, the operators responded that officers were already at the scene.
“Then why is he killing my family now?” Ramiro Guzmán recalled saying.
On Monday, the manhunt for the suspect accused of killing five people with an AR-15-style weapon inside Guzmán’s home in San Jacinto County, Tex., continued into its third day. Authorities said the suspect, identified as Francisco Oropesa, fled after allegedly killing his neighbors on Friday in response to their request that he stop shooting near their yard. More than 250 officers from local, state and federal agencies searched for Oropesa over the weekend, with officials believing they had him cornered in a wooded area. They found only his cellphone.
The sweeping search, concentrated about 45 miles northeast of downtown Houston, has upended the small town where people are asking questions about the police’s confusing response to the 911 calls and the authorities mistakenly releasing a photo of a Fort Worth man as the suspect. He is now getting death threats, his family said Monday. Concerns have also been raised about how the suspect, who authorities said is an undocumented immigrant and was deported several times, came to possess at least five guns.
Friday’s shooting was among several high-profile incidents nationwide last month in which an armed person shot others during an otherwise unremarkable encounter.
The days-long manhunt by hundreds of officers has provided little solace for those directly and indirectly affected by the killings.
On Friday, Sonia Guzmán called 911 a little after 11 p.m. to make a noise complaint because Oropesa was shooting very close to their home, her brother said. Then four men in the house decided to intervene and ask their neighbor to fire his weapon further from their adjoining front yard.
About 15 minutes later, Ramiro Guzmán said, the neighbor entered their home and shot a barrage of bullets, hitting Sonia Guzmán first. Many scrambled for shelter, while others ran for their lives.
Hiding inside a closet with his wife and their 6-month-old baby, Ramiro Guzmán desperately and repeatedly called 911. He said he also called his aunt and asked her to contact authorities.
When police arrived, four adults were dead and a 9-year-old child was twisting in pain, Guzmán said. The boy died in an ambulance on the way to a hospital.
Oropesa, 38, now faces five counts of murder in the killings of four adults and a child, according to San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers.
Capers did not immediately respond Monday afternoon to questions about the possible delay in police response on the night of the shooting and the suspect’s legal right of owning a gun.
Renae Eze, a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), on Sunday said the governor’s office is working with state and local officials to ensure that appropriate resources are devoted to the search. Abbott, the FBI and other agencies are collectively offering an $80,000 reward for information leading to the suspect’s arrest.
Eze also said that the suspect had immigrated to the United States from Mexico illegally and was deported four times before returning to the United States on each occasion.
President Biden — who urged Congress to pass a federal assault weapons ban after a shooter killed six people with an AR-15-style weapon at a Nashville school last month — was briefed Sunday morning on the search for the Texas shooter, according to a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Biden has not commented directly on the shooting.
Authorities have faced several setbacks in the manhunt.
Officials in Cleveland said Saturday that they believed the suspect was about two miles away — but search dogs later lost his scent, and FBI Houston Special Agent in Charge James Smith said he “could be anywhere.” Although law enforcement officers said they found the weapon allegedly used in the shooting, they said the suspect may have another gun, and they are acting as if he is armed.
On Sunday, Smith acknowledged that the agency’s Houston office had released an incorrect image of the suspect as the FBI received information “from a whole slew of agencies.”
“We acted quickly to remove that photo,” Smith told reporters. “We’re 100 percent confident we now have the right photo out there.”
After previously reporting the suspect’s last name as “Oropeza,” the FBI said it was actually spelled “Oropesa.” Records by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement refer to the man as “Francisco Oropesa Perez-Torres.”
Why are Americans shooting strangers and neighbors? ‘It all goes back to fear.’
Jesus Pimentel told The Post that the misidentified man is his brother-in-law and he has received threats, including a TikTok video with a song titled “Dead or Alive.”
The misidentified man, a cross-country truck driver, no longer wants to go to work because he doesn’t want people to mistake him for an alleged killer while filling up his gas tank or stopping at a weigh station, his brother-in-law said.
“He’s scared to leave his house because of this whole mix-up,” Pimentel said.
The actual suspect, Oropesa, has a previous criminal record. In January 2012, he was convicted in Montgomery County, Tex., of driving while intoxicated, ICE said Monday. The agency said he was sentenced to jail time.
In the case, a person with the suspected shooter’s name and age was charged with driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor, in March 2009. Court records in Montgomery County indicate that the individual did not appear in court and as of April 2009, was being held at an immigration detention center in Houston.
According to an ICE official who summarized Oropesa’s immigration history, that man was ordered removed from the country on March 16, 2009, and taken to Mexico the following day. It was not immediately clear why court records in the Montgomery County case said that he was still in custody in Houston nearly a month after ICE said he was removed to Mexico.
Then, the ICE summary states, Oropesa came back into the country and was removed again in September of that year, January 2012 and July 2016.
The driving-while-intoxicated case seemingly remained idle until January 2012, when another court filing showed that the driver pleaded guilty there. Court records show that he was sentenced to 30 days in jail, ordered to pay $448 in court fines and had his driver’s license suspended for 90 days.
The victims in Friday’s shooting have been identified as Sonia Argentina Guzmán, 25; Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Julisa Molina Rivera, 31; Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18; and Daniel Enrique Laso, 9. (Authorities identified Laso as 8, but family members told The Post that he had recently turned 9.) All were from Honduras, officials said.
At a vigil Sunday, community members said farewell to Daniel, whom his aunt described as passionate about sports, always smiling and quick to help his mother with his younger siblings. His mother, Sonia Guzmán, was among those killed.
“He was the most beloved kid ever,” Lucía Guzmán, Daniel’s aunt, said in Spanish. “And his heart knew no bounds.”
Iati and Javaid reported from Washington. Brasch reported from Atlanta. Mark Berman in Washington contributed to this report.