Man Accused of Killing 5 in Texas Had Help Evading Capture, Officials Say

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The man, Francisco Oropesa, was caught a few miles from the site of the shooting, hiding under a pile of laundry, the county sheriff said.

HOUSTON — Officials said on Wednesday that they had arrested the wife of the man they believe had fatally shot five people in a neighborhood dispute outside Cleveland, Texas. The arrest was one of several the authorities made after locating and arresting the suspect on Tuesday.

The announcement pointed to assistance that the suspect, Francisco Oropesa, may have had from relatives and others who lived near his home in eluding capture for four days while a manhunt stretched across Texas to the Mexican border.

The hunt ended on Tuesday when heavily armed state and federal officers found Mr. Oropesa, 38, in a house a few miles from the site in San Jacinto County where the shooting took place on Friday. He was discovered “hiding in a closet underneath some laundry,” according to the San Jacinto sheriff, Greg Capers.

On Wednesday, Tim Kean, the chief deputy of the San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Office, said “several arrests” had been made in the case and more were expected.

Besides Mr. Oropesa, those arrested included a woman described as his wife, Divimara Nava.

During the manhunt, officials said that Ms. Nava was cooperating with investigators. But she was at the house in Montgomery County where Mr. Oropesa was found and arrested on Tuesday, and investigators now believe she assisted him in evading capture.

Ms. Nava, 52, appeared in court on Wednesday. Prosecutors said during the hearing that she had granted officers access to the home where Mr. Oropesa was and that she had told them that he arrived there only around 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday, about 17 hours before his capture.

During her interview with the police, according to prosecutors, Ms. Nava said that Mr. Oropesa had showered and slept and that she had fetched him doughnuts from a nearby store. Prosecutors also said that she had passed a message from Mr. Oropesa to a cousin.

“The message from him was him requesting assistance to get him to Mexico,” a prosecutor said, reading from arrest paperwork; the cousin did not provide that assistance.

Mr. Oropesa and Ms. Nava lived together in the home next to where the shooting took place in San Jacinto County. Both are citizens of Mexico.

Ms. Nava has been charged with hindering the apprehension of a known felon, according to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, and is being held in Montgomery County.

“Anybody that helped this maniac has definitely got some kind of issues,” Mr. Kean said.

He said that while Mr. Oropesa was on the run, he made use of a cellphone to call several people who were not far from the house where he was eventually arrested. Officers found a different cellphone belonging to Mr. Oropesa early in the search.

Mr. Kean added that investigators did not believe that Mr. Oropesa had spent the whole four days of the manhunt at the house where he was ultimately found, and that he probably was the person who was spotted near a landfill on Monday. Though officers rushed to that location, Mr. Kean said, they did not capture Mr. Oropesa at that point.

Mr. Oropesa, who has been deported four times, has been charged with five counts of murder and is being held on $5 million bond, Sheriff Capers said. On Tuesday night, Mr. Oropesa was being transferred to a San Jacinto County jail.

Sheriff Capers declined to say on Tuesday who owned the house where Mr. Oropesa was found, which is near the town of Cut and Shoot. Property records indicated that the house belonged to one of his relatives.

Mr. Oropesa- photo: East Anglian Daily Times

 

“Somebody got a tip,” Sheriff Capers said in a Tuesday night news conference. Then tactical officers from several agencies “meandered over there and found that tip to be true.” He said Mr. Oropesa did not resist arrest.

State and federal law enforcement officials had been searching for Mr. Oropesa in the thick woods around his home outside Cleveland, in neighboring counties and as far south as the border with Mexico, where, officials believed, he might have been trying to flee.

But in the end, officers found Mr. Oropesa — whose face stared out from large Spanish-language posters around San Jacinto County, about an hour’s drive north of downtown Houston — roughly 10 miles from the scene of the killings.

Jimmy Paul, an assistant special agent in charge with the F.B.I., said that the tip that had led to the arrest came in at 5:15 p.m. on Tuesday; Mr. Oropesa was arrested at 6:30 p.m. Mr. Paul did not elaborate on the nature of the tip or who had left it. Officials had offered rewards totaling $80,000 for information leading to Mr. Oropesa’s arrest.

Officials said that late Friday, Mr. Oropesa was firing a gun in his front yard outside Cleveland, on a plot of land smaller than an acre in a row of similarly sized properties along a rutted dirt road. His immediate neighbors, a family from Honduras, complained about the noise around 11:30 p.m., both to Mr. Oropesa and by calling 911.

Officers did not immediately go to the area, where residents have long complained of dangerously wanton gunfire. Soon after the complaints, officials said, Mr. Oropesa could be seen on a doorbell video entering his neighbor Wilson Garcia’s home, armed with an AR-15-style rifle.

Five people were fatally shot inside the home, according to the F.B.I.: Mr. Garcia’s wife, Sonia Guzman, 25; his son, Daniel Enrique Laso, 9; Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Juliza Molina Rivera, 31; and Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18.

Officials declined to answer questions on Tuesday about the speed of the response to the killings.

The top official in San Jacinto County, Fritz Faulkner, said in a telephone interview that he was alerted to the arrest shortly after it happened. The killings shocked the community, he said, and the arrests meant the county was now, after several days, finally able to rest easy.

“I’m just elated,” Mr. Faulkner said.

Source: The New York Times