April 29, 2023 - 8:38 am
Updated April 29, 2023 - 4:01 pm
CLEVELAND, Texas — A man went next door with a rifle and began shooting his neighbors, killing an 8-year-old and four others inside a house near Houston, after the family asked him to stop firing rounds in his yard because they were trying to sleep, authorities said Saturday.
San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said authorities were still searching for 38-year-old Francisco Oropeza following the shooting in the town of Cleveland, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of Houston. He said Oropeza used an AR-style rifle in the attack, which happened shortly before midnight Friday.
Late Saturday afternoon, the sheriff said the search area was widened for suspected gunman who may still have a weapon.
“All of his rounds were from the neck up, so basically in the head,” Capers told The Associated Press.
The attack was the latest act of gun violence in what has been a record pace of mass shootings in the U.S. so far this year, some of which have also involved semiautomatic rifles.
By late Saturday morning, Capers said authorities were using scent-tracking dogs and an overhead drone in the search for Oropeza, who they believe was intoxicated at the time of the shooting and then fled toward a heavily wooded forest a few miles from the scene.
Capers said there were 10 people in the house — some of whom has just moved there earlier in the week — but that that no one else was injured. He said two of the victims, all believed to be from Honduras, were found laying over two children in a bedroom.
Two other victims, a male and female, were found by the front door and the slain child was in the front room. Capers said three other “blood-covered” children were found in the home and taken to a hospital, where they were determined to be uninjured.
“The Honduran ladies that were laying over these children were doing it in such an effort as to protect the child,” Capers said.
The confrontation followed family members walking up to the fence and asking the suspect to stop shooting rounds, Capers said. The suspect responded by telling them that it was his property, according to Capers, and that one person in the house got a video of the suspect walking up to the front door with the rifle.
Three of the victims were women and one was a man. Their names were not released. Capers said the victims were between the ages of 8 and about 40 years old.
Capers said his deputies had been to Oropeza’s home at least once before and spoken with him about “shooting his gun in the yard.” It was not immediately clear whether any action was taken at the time.
Capers said the new arrivals in the home had moved from Houston earlier in the week, but he did not know whether they were planning to stay there.
Across the U.S. since Jan. 1, there have been at least 18 shootings that left four or more people dead, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today, in partnership with Northeastern University. The violence is sparked by a range of motives: murder-suicides and domestic violence; gang retaliation; school shootings and workplace vendettas.
Texas has confronted multiple mass shootings in recent years, including last year’s attack at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde; a racist attack at an El Paso Walmart in 2019; and a gunman opening fire at a church in the tiny town of Sutherland Springs in 2017.
Republican leaders in Texas have rejected calls for new firearm restrictions, including this year over the protests of several families whose children were killed in Uvalde.
Weber reported from Austin, Texas. Associated Press writer Ken Miller contributed to this report.