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Hundreds of officers in Texas search for shooting suspect accused of killing 5 people

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The search continues for the suspect in last weekend's mass shooting which left five people dead, including a child, in the town of Cleveland, Texas. The motive for the killings may have been a noise complaint. Lucio Vasquez with Houston Public Media has been following the story. Tell us about the hunt. Where does it stand?

LUCIO VASQUEZ, BYLINE: Yeah, so as of right now, well over 200 officers are entering Day 4 in their search for 38-year-old Francisco Oropeza. There is now about an $80,000 reward for any information that leads to an arrest. The last update we've got from the FBI was on Sunday when James Smith, the special agent in charge for the Houston FBI office, said that they didn't have any leads.

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JAMES SMITH: We do not know where he is. We don't have any tips right now to where he may be. And that's why we've come up with this reward, so that hopefully somebody out there can call us.

VASQUEZ: This changed yesterday, however. The sheriff in a neighboring county got a couple of tips that a person looking like Oropeza was walking down the street near a landfill. But after the authorities checked that out, it turned out to be a false alarm. Now, the searches did result in schools getting locked down in these areas. And ultimately, these tips were fruitless. And the search continues.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. He's accused of killing four adults and one child. They were his neighbors. What do we know about them?

VASQUEZ: Yeah, the victims were 9-year-old Daniel Guzman (ph), 21-year-old Diana Alvarado, 18-year-old Jonathan Casarez, 25-year-old Sonia Taibot (ph) and 31-year-old Julisa Rivera. Some of them were related. There were a total of four Honduran families at the home when the gunman entered with an AR-15 and started shooting. It had all started, according to authorities, when Oropeza was shooting his rifle in the yard and some of his neighbors asked him to stop because a baby was trying to sleep in the home. Now, the FBI says the families are planning funerals and asked the media to give them privacy during the process and not to approach them.

MARTÍNEZ: Lucio, why has the immigration status of the victims and also the alleged shooter all of a sudden come up?

VASQUEZ: Well, Governor Greg Abbott sent out a tweet Sunday morning announcing a $50,000 reward along with some other local authorities, comprising about $80,000 reward money. But in that tweet, he also called the victims illegal immigrants, which got some backlash on social media. Yesterday, he backpedaled that tweet and said that at least one of the victims may have been in the U.S. legally, and then said that he regrets that the focus on the immigration status is distracting from capturing the alleged shooter. Now, Oropeza, authorities say, is a Mexican national and has been deported from the U.S. before.

MARTÍNEZ: You've been around Cleveland, Texas. Is this a place where someone, if they wanted to, could hide pretty easily?

VASQUEZ: In my opinion, yes, absolutely. I was there yesterday and can tell you that the area was very wooded, with lots of places where you could potentially lie low. A lot of trees in the area as well. Police have been using search dogs, helicopters, drones and have gone door to door. They're also reaching out to the Spanish-speaking community in the area by setting up billboards in multiple languages. Authorities did find Oropeza's cellphone and the gun they believed was used in the shooting as well. The FBI recommends calling them if he's spotted and not to approach, as he could still be armed and dangerous.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's Lucio Vasquez with Houston Public Media. Thanks a lot.

VASQUEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Lucio Vasquez