30 April 2023

Police struggling to trace gunman alleged to have shot dead five people

30 April 2023

Law enforcement officers said on Sunday they have been unable to find a gunman who fled after killing five people in a rural Texas town, offering 80,000 US dollars (£63,000) in total reward money in hopes of motivating someone to come forward with information about the suspect’s whereabouts.

“We do not know where he is,” said James Smith, the FBI’s special agent in charge. Police were going door to door looking for the suspect.

The suspect, Francisco Oropesa, 38, was considered armed and dangerous after fleeing the area on Friday, likely on foot, San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said on Saturday.

He said authorities had widened the search to 20 miles from the scene of the shooting, which occurred after the suspect’s neighbours asked him to stop firing off rounds in his yard.

Investigators found clothes and a phone while combing a rural area that includes dense layers of forest, but tracking dogs lost the scent, Capers said.

Authorities were able to identify Oropesa by an identity card issued by Mexican authorities to citizens who reside outside the country, as well as doorbell camera footage. He said police have also interviewed the suspect’s wife.

Police recovered the AR-15-style rifle that Oropesa allegedly used in the shootings but authorities were not sure if he was carrying another weapon, the sheriff said. There were other weapons in the suspect’s home, he said.

“He could be anywhere now,” Capers said on Saturday.

The attack happened near the town of Cleveland, north of Houston, on a street where some residents say neighbours often unwind by firing off guns.

It was a much quieter scene on Sunday. Police crime scene tape had been removed from around the victims’ home. Some people stopped by to leave flowers.

An FBI agent, several Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and other officers could be seen walking around the neighbourhood, going door-to-door and trying to speak with neighbours. The agent and officers declined to comment about what they were doing.

The victims of Friday’s shooting were between the ages of eight and 31 years old and all were believed to be from Honduras, Capers said.

All were shot “from the neck up”, he said. A GoFundMe page was set up to repatriate the bodies of two victims, a mother and son, to their native country.

Enrique Reina, Honduras’ secretary of foreign affairs and international cooperation, said on Twitter that the Honduran Consulate in Houston was contacting the families in connection with the repatriation of remains as well as US authorities to keep apprised of the investigation.

The suspect’s last name was originally given as Oropeza by authorities, but the FBI in Houston said in a Tweet on Sunday that it was now referring to him as Oropesa to “better reflect his identity in law enforcement systems.” The FBI said the case “remains a fluid investigation.”

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 semi-automatic rifles.

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