Wilson Garcia didn’t even ask his neighbor to stop shooting.
People in their rural town north of Houston are in the habit of firing their weapons to blow off steam, but it was late on a Friday night, and Garcia had a one-month-old son who was crying.
So, Garcia said, he and two other men went to his neighbor’s house to “respectfully” ask that he shoot away from his home.
“He told us it was on his property, and he could do what he wanted,” Garcia said Sunday in Cleveland, Texas, after a vigil for his 9-year-old son, who was killed in the attack.
The accused is 38 years old Francisco Oropeza, today at large Despite a search involving over 200 police from several jurisdictions.
Garcia called the police after Oropeza declined his request. The man fired a few more shots, and now his voice got louder. In a neighborhood of homes on a 1-acre (4046 m²) lot, Garcia could see the man on his front porch but could not tell what he was doing.
Garcia said his family continued to call the police — five calls in total. Five times the dispatcher assured that help was coming.
And then, 10 to 20 minutes after Garcia walked back from Oropeza’s house, the man started running toward her, and began reloading.
“I told my wife, ‘Come inside. This man has his weapon loaded,'” Garcia said. “My wife told me to go inside because ‘he won’t shoot at me, I’m a woman.'”
The miscreants reached the house and started firing rapidly. Garcia’s wife, Sonia Argentina Guzmán, 25, was at the front door, and was the first to die.
A total of 15 people lived in the house, many of them friends who had gone to attend a church retreat with Garcia’s wife. Garcia said the gunman seemed intent on killing everyone.
The dead also included García’s son, Daniel Enrique Lesso, and two women who died while rescuing García’s baby and 2-year-old daughter. Garcia said that one of the women told her to jump out of a window “because my children were without a mother and one of their parents had to be alive to take care of them.”
“I’m trying to be strong for my kids,” Garcia cried. “My daughter understands. It’s very difficult when she starts asking for mom and her [older] Brother.”
The police were going door-to-door on Sunday hoping to get a clue about the accused. Governor Greg Abbott offered $50,000 in reward money and local officials and the FBI also helped, bringing the total to $80,000 for any information about Oropeza’s whereabouts.
FBI Special Agent in Charge James Smith told reporters, “I can tell you right now, we have no leads.” ,
Police recovered an AR-15-style rifle they said Oropeza used in the shooting. Authorities were not sure Oropeza was carrying another weapon after other weapons were found in his home, but said he should be considered armed and dangerous.
He fled the area, possibly on foot. San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said that during the early hours of the search, investigators found clothing and a phone while searching an area with thick layers of woods, but tracking dogs lost the scent.
Authorities were able to identify Oropeza from doorbell camera footage, as well as an identification card issued by Mexican authorities to citizens living outside the country. He said that the police have also interrogated the suspect’s wife several times.
Capers said he hoped the reward money would motivate people to provide information, and that there were plans to put up billboards in Spanish to spread the word. Garcia, his slain wife and son, and three other victims – Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Julissa Molina Rivera, 31; and Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18 — were from Honduras.
“We are looking for closure for this family,” Capers said.
Asked about response times, Capers said officers got there as quickly as possible and that they only had three to cover over 1800 square kilometres.
By Sunday, police crime scene tape had been removed from around Garcia’s home, where some people stayed to leave flowers.
In the neighborhood, an FBI agent, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and other officers were seen going door to door. A trooper stopped a red truck and asked to look inside a travel trailer that the truck was pulling before the driver continued on his way.
Veronica Pineda, 34, who lives across the street from the suspect’s home, said officers asked if they could search his property to see if he might be hiding out there. She said she was scared because the gunman had not yet been caught.
“It’s kind of scary,” she said. “You never know where he might be.”
Pineda said she did not know Oropeza well, but occasionally saw him, his wife and son on the street riding their horses. She said the family had lived there for five or six years and that neighbors had called the authorities in the past to complain about people firing at them.
García also did not know Oropeza well, although their wives would talk occasionally. Once, he said, the man helped him cut down a tree.