Texas manhunt underway for alleged killer of five neighbours

The Texas mass shooting took place after neighbours asked the drunken gunman to stop shooting his rifle as the noise was keeping a baby awake.

A vast search was underway in Texas on Monday 1 May for the man suspected of shooting dead five neighbours, including a nine-year-old boy, after they asked him to stop firing his rifle in his yard late at night.

The FBI in Houston said more than 250 law enforcement officers from a dozen agencies were “actively searching” for the man, Francisco Oropesa, a 38-year-old Mexican national.

Texas mass shooting follows request to stop firing rifle in yard

Oropesa is accused of attacking his neighbours on Friday night 29 April in the small town of Cleveland, in southeastern Texas, after they allegedly asked him to stop shooting his semi-automatic AR-15 because the noise was keeping a baby awake.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott offered a $50 000 (about R920 000) reward for information leading to the capture of Oropesa, who he said was “in the country illegally”.

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Social media furore over focus on immigration status

The short statement by Abbott, a Republican, also referred to the suspect as having “killed five illegal immigrants,” sparking immediate criticism on social media over his focus on the victims’ immigration status.

“Five human beings lost their lives and Greg Abbott insists on labeling them ‘illegal immigrants,'” tweeted Julian Castro, the former Democratic mayor of the Texas city of San Antonio.

The victims were originally from Honduras.

Abbott also said he will “continue working with state and local officials to ensure they have all available resources to respond to this horrific crime.”

“Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of the five victims that were taken in this senseless act of violence,” he added.

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Immigration status of Texas gunman ‘unclear’

This handout image obtained from the FBI on 1 May 2023, shows a picture of Francisco Oropesa, who is believed to have shot dead five neighbours after they asked him to stop firing his rifle in his yard on 29 April 2023 in Texas. Photo: FBI / AFP

CNN reported that Oropesa had been deported from the United States at least four times since 2009, citing a source from US immigration authorities, adding that his current immigration status was unclear.

Greg Capers, the sheriff of San Jacinto County where the shootings took place, said his thoughts were with the slain “little boy,” whose age was previously stated as eight.

“I don’t care if he was here legally,” Capers told reporters over the weekend. “I don’t care if he was here illegally. He was in my county. Five people died in my county and that is where my heart is.”

‘I’ll do what I want’

The FBI offered an additional $25 000 (about R460 000) reward for Oropesa.

Capers described a horrifying scene when the authorities arrived at the victims’ residence after receiving a call about “harassment” around 11:30 pm Friday.

Bodies were strewn from the front door to an inside bedroom, where two deceased women were found lying on top of two traumatized children who survived the massacre.

“In my opinion, they were actually trying to take care of the babies and keep them babies alive,” Capers told ABC’s Houston station KTRK.

All the victims had been shot “from the neck up, almost execution style, basically in the head,” the sheriff said.

Several residents were in critical condition with multiple gunshot wounds.

Capers said the suspect “had been drinking” and allegedly told his neighbours “I’ll do what I want to in my front yard”, before barging into their house and opening fire.

The Honduran foreign minister, Enrique Reina, called for the gunman to face “the full weight of the law”.

‘Congress must act’

In response to yet another US mass shooting, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday, “The president believes prayers alone are not enough.”

“Congress must act,” Jean-Pierre said. “Because what makes tragedies like this one all the more heart-wrenching is the fact that it is entirely within our power to take these weapons of war off our streets.”

More than 180 mass shootings in US this year

The Texas killings appeared to be the latest in a series of US shootings spawned by normally banal interactions: A teenager mistakenly knocking on the wrong door, a cheerleader accidentally stepping into the wrong car, someone mistakenly driving into the wrong driveway, a ball rolling into a neighbour’s yard. 

There have been more than 180 mass shootings — defined as four or more people wounded or killed — so far this year in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive. 

With more firearms than inhabitants, the United States has the highest rate of gun deaths of any developed country — 49,000 in 2021, up from 45,000 the year before.

By © Agence France-Presse