As of Monday, authorities had still not captured a gunman in Texas who had killed five Honduran neighbors, and as the search dragged on into a third day with false alarms and few apparent leads, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said faced backlash for drawing attention to the victims’ immigration. Status.
An FBI agent at the scene near Houston admitted he had little to do in the widening manhunt for Francisco Oropeza, 38, who has been deported four times since 2009 , but whose neighbors say he lived on their street for years before Friday. nighttime shoot in rural Cleveland.
Twice Monday, a nearby county sheriff’s office alerted the public to possible sightings, but neither came to Oropeza.
Abbott offered a $50,000 reward over the weekend for any tips that might lead to the shooter, and in doing so, the three-term governor described all of the victims as “illegal immigrants” — a potentially false statement according to which his office came back and apologized. Monday Critics accused Abbott, who has made sweeping immigration measures a signature issue in Texas, of putting politics in the shooting.
“We have since learned that at least one of the victims may be legally in the United States,” Abbott spokeswoman Renae Eze said in a statement. “We regret that the information was incorrect and undermined the important goal of finding and apprehending the criminal.”
Eze said information provided by federal authorities after the shooting indicated that the suspect and victims were in the country illegally. Her statement did not explain why Abbott mentioned their status, and she did not immediately respond to questions about the critics.
More than 250 law enforcement officers from multiple agencies, including the US Marshals, are now part of a growing search that has proven empty despite extra manpower, scent tracking dogs and a total of $80,000 in rewards on the table. A heavy police presence converged in Montgomery County on Monday after a possible sighting, but the sheriff’s office later said none of the people were found to be Oropeza.
Hours later, the department reported another possible sighting, tweeting that several schools had “secured their campuses” and again asking residents to avoid the area. But this search, too, yielded nothing.
Both were among the first times since the shooting that authorities had announced a possible sighting.
“I can tell you right now, we have no leads,” FBI special agent in charge James Smith said Sunday.
Oropeza is considered armed and dangerous after fleeing the area on Friday night, likely on foot. San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said authorities have widened the search area beyond the scene of the shooting, which happened after the suspect’s neighbors asked him to stop shooting in his yard late at night because a baby was trying to sleep.
At a Sunday vigil in Cleveland, Wilson Garcia, the father of the month-old, described the terrifying efforts made inside his home by friends and family that night to escape , to hide and protect himself and the children after Oropeza approached the house and began shooting, killing his wife first at the front door.
Police recovered the AR-15 style rifle they said Oropeza used in the shooting. Authorities were unsure if Oropeza was carrying another weapon after others were found in his home.
The alleged shooter is a Mexican national who has been deported four times, according to a US official with direct knowledge of the case who spoke on condition of anonymity because public disclosure was not authorized.
The official said the shooter was first deported in March 2009 and last deported in July 2016. He was also deported in September 2009 and January 2012.
Law enforcement on site did not confirm the citizenship status of the victims. By describing them as “illegal immigrants” on Sunday in his first public statement about the shooting — and perhaps wrongly so — Abbott has come under fire from immigrant rights groups and Democrats.
“It is indefensible for any right-hearted Texan to use divisive language to smear innocent victims,” said Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
The victims were identified as Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Julia Molina Rivera, 31; Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18; Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25; and Daniel Enrique Laso, 9.
Capers said he hoped the reward money would motivate people to provide information and that there were plans to put up Spanish-language billboards to spread the word.
Veronica Pineda, 34, who lives opposite the suspect’s home, said authorities stopped at her home over the weekend to ask if they could search her property to see if the shooter could be hiding there. She said she feared the shooter had not yet been captured.
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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)