A man suspected of using an AR-15 rifle to kill five neighbors execution-style continued to elude an army of law enforcement hunting for him outside Houston over the weekend.
Authorities said Sunday afternoon that Francisco Oropesa, 38, appeared to have slipped past a 2-mile dragnet of more than 150 law enforcement officers in Cleveland, Texas, about 45 miles north of Houston, on Saturday.
On Sunday, they said, more than 250 officers were continuing the search.
Oropesa is suspected of opening fire on neighbors late Friday after one complained that shots coming from his adjacent property were keeping an infant from sleeping, the officials said.
Authorities said Oropesa may have been intoxicated before the attack.
Shawn Crawford, a neighbor who said he knows Oropesa and the victims, described the community as “family oriented” and the suspect as a “family guy.”
“He’s always working, training his horse,” Crawford said. “Never have I seen a fight, argument, raise his voice, anything.”
Complaints about gunfire in the past, he said, were easily addressed, as Oropesa would move to another side of his property. San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers acknowledged previous reports of gunfire, which he said might not have been illegal, depending on the size of his property.
The characterization of an even-handed family man would appear to make the suspect’s disappearance all the more unexpected. Law enforcement agents said they were in contact with Oropesa’s wife but had no leads beyond his apparent contact with someone Saturday afternoon.
“We’re running into dead ends,” James Smith, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Houston-area office, said at a news conference Sunday afternoon. “Right now we have zero leads.”
On Saturday, searchers found the suspect’s cellphone and some of his clothing before scent-tracking dogs lost his trail, authorities said.
Capers, the sheriff, said authorities seized the rifle used in the attack, but the suspect might still be armed with a handgun.
Court records for a drunken-driving conviction in 2012, stemming from a Texas Highway Patrol arrest in 2009, match the suspect’s name and birthdate and suggest he may have been familiar with the area for more than a decade.
On Sunday, Capers vowed to give the search his full attention as adjacent agencies, the Texas Public Safety Department, the FBI, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined the hunt.
“It is my No. 1 priority to find him,” Capers said.
A vigil was underway Sunday afternoon for the youngest victim, 9-year-old Daniel Enrique Laso. The others killed in the attack were identified as Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25; Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Julisa Molina Rivera, 31; and Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18.
All were believed to be from Honduras.
Authorities had initially said the youngest victim in the shooting was 8. However, his father confirmed to NBC News he was 9.
Capers said Sunday that his “heart is with” the little boy who died. “I don’t care if he was here legally. 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 — in my county protecting our people to the best of our ability.”
Reward money for information leading to the apprehension of the suspect was boosted by a $25,000 pledge from the FBI, amounting to $80,000 total.
As law enforcement went door to door to look for security video or tips that might lead to the suspect, the FBI retracted a photo that had been released and distributed several new images, including one of a tattoo on the suspect’s forearm, to help the public recognize and report him should anyone come across him.
“We moved quickly to remove that photo,” he said. “Now we’re 100% confident we have the right photo out there.”
Authorities earlier said Oropesa marched to his neighbors’ residence with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and aimed at his victims with resolve.
Capers pushed back at a Saturday news conference when a reporter suggested victims may have been sprayed with gunfire, and, in a subsequent interview, he elaborated:
“All of them were headshot in an execution style,” he said.
He described the gunman’s actions, as they were allegedly known to investigators, Friday before midnight.
“This man takes it upon himself to walk out of his residence with a loaded AR-15, walk out into the street, walk down the street, walk into that man’s driveway, walk up into that man’s house and start shooting.”
The four adult victims were dead at the scene; the 9-year-old died at a hospital, authorities said. Three other children may have been saved by two women at the home who draped their bodies over them, Capers said.
In all, he said, he believed 15 rounds were fired.