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Texas man accused of killing 5 neighbors is in custody, authorities say

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A Texas man accused of fatally shooting five people, including a 9-year-old child, has been captured after a four-day search.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Police say 38-year-old Francisco Oropesa was arrested just miles away from the house where the killings occurred last Friday and that the shooting may have stemmed from a noise complaint from a neighbor.

FADEL: Joining us now is Lucio Vasquez with Houston Public Media, who's been following this story.

Good morning.

LUCIO VASQUEZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So what can you tell us about the arrest?

VASQUEZ: Authorities say Francisco Oropesa was arrested yesterday evening in a home about 10 miles away from the scene of the shooting in Cleveland, Texas. It's an area about 45 miles north of Houston. Police say he was found hiding in a closet under a pile of laundry in the home and was arrested without incident. During a press conference last night, San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said he hoped the victims' families could find comfort in his arrest.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREG CAPERS: That they can rest easy now because he is behind bars, and he will live out his life behind bars for killing those five.

VASQUEZ: Oropesa is now being held on a $5 million bond at a local jail. He's currently facing five counts of murder. And as of now, no federal charges have been filed.

FADEL: Now, this was a four-day search, the killing of five people. Can you just recap what happened and what's been going on with the search?

VASQUEZ: Yeah. This all began Friday night when authorities say Oropesa's neighbors had asked him to stop shooting his AR-15 in his yard because they were trying to put a baby to sleep. This prompted him to walk over with the rifle in hand and begin shooting, which left three adults, one teenager and a 9-year-old boy dead. Over the next four days, more than 250 local, state and federal officers scoured the Cleveland area in search of the alleged shooter. They also placed an $80,000 reward for any information leading to his arrest After receiving more than 200 tips over the last few days, the FBI eventually got a promising lead yesterday evening, which led them to a specific house. About an hour later, Oropesa was in custody.

FADEL: And what can you tell us about the victims?

VASQUEZ: Well, moments before the shooting, four tightknit Honduran families were enjoying each other's time that night in that house. By the time the shooting ceased, five people were dead - 9-year-old Daniel Guzman, 21-year-old Diana Alvarado, 18-year-old Jonathan Casarez, 25-year-old Sonia Taibot and 31-year-old Julisa Rivera. According to the Associated Press, Guzman's elementary school had held a vigil Monday where his classmates and loved ones were setting up a small monument in his honor. The FBI says the families are planning upcoming funerals at the moment and asked the media to give them privacy during the process.

FADEL: Now, during this search, the governor, Greg Abbott, described the victims as illegal immigrants, and a lot of people - there was backlash. A lot of people saw that as dehumanizing language. If you could talk about what's happened and how that shifted the conversation around immigration status.

VASQUEZ: Yeah. This happened on Sunday. As you mentioned, Governor Greg Abbott had tweeted the fact that these people - well, at least, it wasn't a fact at the moment - but in that moment, he had called these five victims illegal immigrants. And as you can imagine, there was backlash.

VASQUEZ: A lot of critics had said that the immigration status of the victims had nothing to do with the shooting itself or the manhunt of the alleged shooter. Eventually, Abbott slightly backpedaled and said that it appeared that one of the victims was in the U.S. legally. As for Oropesa, authorities say he was undocumented and had been deported from the U.S. several times before.

FADEL: Lucio Vasquez with Houston Public Media.

Thank you so much.

VASQUEZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF RON ADELAAR'S "LAETITIA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Lucio Vasquez