Honduran man recounts attack that killed his wife and son

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Wilson Garcia hadn’t even asked his neighbor to stop shooting.

People in her rural town north of Houston are used to people shooting their guns to relax, but it was late Friday night and Garcia had a crying 1-month-old son.

So he and two people, he explained, went to his neighbor’s house to “respectfully” ask him to shoot a little further from his house.

“He told us he was on his property and he could do whatever he wanted,” Garcia said Sunday after a vigil in Cleveland, Texas, for his 9-year-old son, killed in the attack that followed shortly after.

The suspect, Francisco Oropeza, 38, was still on the run this Monday, despite a search involving more than 200 police officers from different forces.

Garcia called the police after Oropeza denied his request. The man fired some more, and it was louder now. In a neighborhood where the lots measure one acre (4,000 square meters), Garcia could see the man on his front porch, but he couldn’t make out what he was doing.

His family kept calling the police, five calls in all, Garcia said. On five occasions, the person who responded assured that help was on the way.

And then, between 10 and 20 minutes after Garcia had come back from Oropeza’s house, the man started running towards him while he was reloading.

“I told my wife ‘come in. This man has loaded his gun,’” Garcia said. “My wife told me to go inside her because she ‘she won’t shoot me, I’m a woman.'”

The man reached the house and started shooting. Garcia’s wife, Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25, was at the front door and was the first to die.

In the house there were 15 people in total, several of them friends who had come to join Garcia’s wife in a religious retreat. The man seemed intent on killing everyone, Garcia said.

Among the dead were Garcia’s son, Daniel Enrique Laso, and two women who died protecting Garcia’s baby and two-year-old daughter. Garcia said one of the women told her to jump out the window “because my children had lost their mother and one of his fathers had to stay alive to take care of them.”

“I try to be strong for my children,” Garcia said through tears. “My daughter kind of gets it. It is very difficult when she starts asking about mom and her brother (her older one)”.

Police went door to door on Sunday hoping to find any clues that would lead to the suspect. Gov. Greg Abbot offered a $50,000 reward, which was raised to $80,000 for any information on Oropeza’s whereabouts after contributions from local authorities and the FBI.

“I can tell you that now we have zero leads,” said James Smith, the FBI special agent in charge of the case, during a press conference, which again asked the local population for information.

Police recovered the AR-15 rifle believed to have been used by Oropeza in the shooting. Authorities weren’t sure if Oropeza had more weapons after others were found in his home, but he said he should be considered armed and dangerous.

It is likely that he fled the area on foot. In the first hours of searching, investigators found clothing and a cell phone while searching a heavily wooded area, but the dogs lost their trail, county police chief Greg Capers said.

Authorities were able to identify Oropeza from an identity card issued by Mexican authorities for citizens residing outside the country, as well as from camera footage at the door. Police have also interviewed the suspect’s wife on several occasions, he added.

Capers said he hoped the reward money would encourage people to offer information and said there were plans to put up informational signs in Spanish.

García, his wife and murdered son, and the other three victims – Diana Velázquez Alvarado, 21, Julisa Molina Rivera, 31, and José Jonathan Casarez, 18 – were Hondurans.

“We tried to get this family relief from the conclusion of the matter,” Capers said.

When asked about the authorities’ response time, the police chief said officers had arrived as fast as they could and he had just three people to cover 1,800 square kilometers.

By Sunday the police seal had been removed from García’s house and some people had left flowers.

In the neighborhood, an FBI agent, troopers from the Texas Department of Public Health and other agents went door-to-door. A patrolman stopped a red pickup truck and asked to look inside a trailer it was carrying before allowing the driver to continue on his journey.

Verónica Pineda, 34, who lives across the street from the suspect, said authorities had asked if they could search his property in case he might be hiding there. She said that she was afraid that the assailant had not yet been caught.

“It’s a little scary,” he said. “A she never knows where she might be.”

Pineda said that he did not know Oropeza well, but that he sometimes saw him with his wife and son riding a horse in the street. He said the family had lived there for five or six years and that neighbors had called authorities earlier to complain about the shooting.

Garcia also didn’t know Oropeza well, although their wives did talk on occasion. Once, he said, the man helped him cut down a tree.

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Written by Editor TLN

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