A man in Texas’s Houston on Friday (April 28) went next door with a rifle and mercilessly shot down five of his neighbours including an eight-year-old after the family requested him to stop firing rounds in his yard because they were trying to sleep, authorities said on Saturday (April 29).
San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said authorities in Texas have launched a massive operation to locate the ‘killer’ who has been identified as 38-year-old Francisco Oropeza could now be as large as 10 or 20 miles” as the gunman remained at large more than 15 hours after the shooting Friday night.
The shooting happened near the town of Cleveland, about 72 km north of Houston. Capers said Oropeza may still have a weapon.
Neighbours in the locality said it was not uncommon to hear co-residents unwind at the end of the work week by firing off guns.
Capers said Oropeza used an AR-style rifle and that all the victims were believed to be from Honduras. All of his rounds were from the neck up, so basically in the head, Capers said.
The attack was the latest act of gun violence in what has been a record pace of mass shootings in the US so far this year, some of which have also involved semiautomatic rifles.
The mass 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 neighbourhood inside a single-story home.
Capers said authorities were using scent-tracking dogs and an overhead drone in the search for Oropeza, who they believe was intoxicated at the time of the shooting and then fled toward a heavily wooded forest a few miles from the scene.
There were at least 10 people in the house some of whom has just moved there earlier in the week. Two of the victims were found in a bedroom laying over two children in an apparent attempt to shield them. Three were female, including a 15-year-old girl, said Rob Freyer, a prosecutor in San Jacinto County. He did not know the ages of the adult victims, which included one male. Two of the victims were found by the front door and the slain eight-year-old boy was in the front room, according to Capers. He said three other blood-covered children in the home were taken to a hospital but did not have injuries.
Capers said it is likely that the ladies lay over the children to protect them from being fired upon.
Shooting as recreation normal in locality, say residents
The confrontation happened when members of the family walked up to the fence and asked the suspect to stop shooting rounds, Capers said. The suspect responded by telling them that it was his property, after which he walked up to the front door with the rifle, Capers said. The shooting took place on a rural pothole-riddled street where single-story homes sit on wide one-acre lots and are surrounded by a thick canopy of trees. A horse could be seen behind the victim’s home, while in the front yard of Oropezas house, a dog and chickens wandered.
Rene Arevalo Sr., who lives a few houses down, said he heard gunshots around midnight but didn’t think anything of it. “It’s a normal thing people do around here, especially on Fridays after work,” Arevalo said. “They get home and start drinking in their backyards and shooting out there.”
Capers said his deputies had been to Oropeza’s home at least once before and spoken with him about shooting his gun in the yard. It was not immediately clear whether any action was taken at the time. Capers said the new arrivals in the home had moved from Houston earlier in the week, but he did not know whether they were planning to stay there.
Since January 1, the US has reported at least 18 shooting incidents that left four or more people dead, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today, in partnership with Northeastern University. The violence is sparked by a range of motives: murder-suicides and domestic violence; gang retaliation; school shootings and workplace vendettas. Texas has confronted multiple mass shootings in recent years, including last year’s attack 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. Republican leaders in Texas have continually rejected calls for new firearm restrictions, including this year over the protests of several families whose children were killed in Uvalde. A few months ago, Arevalo said Oropeza threatened to kill his dog after it got loose in the neighbourhood and chased the pit bull in his truck. “I tell my wife all the time, ‘Stay away from the neighbours. Don’t argue with them. You never know how they’re going to react,’” Arevalo said. “I tell her that because Texas is a state where you don’t know who has a gun and who is going to react that way.”
(With inputs from agencies)