The longtime partner of the man accused of gunning down five people, including a 9-year-old, in a neighboring Texas home apparently helped the suspect while also cooperating with authorities – all while a massive manhunt was underway – a prosecutor said Wednesday.
The suspected gunman, Mexican national Francisco Oropesa, was caught Tuesday and faces one count of first-degree felony murder – with four more counts expected – after the mass shooting Friday night, San Jacinto County criminal district attorney Todd Dillon said. The charge could be upgraded to capital murder – a death penalty offense in Texas – a source with his office told CNN.
Oropesa’s longtime partner, Divimara Lamar Nava, faces a charge of hindering apprehension or prosecution of a known felon, a third-degree felony, online sheriff’s records show. She was booked Wednesday; It’s not clear if she has an attorney or when her court appearance will be.
“Ms. Nava appeared to be cooperating up until the time that we arrested her,” Dillon said. However, “what we believe that Ms. Nava was doing is that she was providing him with material aid and encouragement, food, clothes, and had arranged transport to this house.”
Nava was arrested at the same Montgomery County location where Oropesa was found Tuesday evening hidden in a closet under a pile of laundry, according to case records and San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers. Law enforcement had tracked her to the home, associated with a relative of Oropesa, a law enforcement source told CNN, about a 20-minute drive west of where the shooting unfolded in Cleveland, northwest of Houston.
The district attorney, like other officials, has referred to Nava as the suspected killer’s “wife,” though public records suggest she is not married. “I don’t know if it’s common-law (marriage), or they’ve actually in fact been married,” Dillon said. “But they were living together as husband and wife.”
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A man suspected of assisting Oropesa also is in custody in the San Jacinto County jail, the district attorney said. He’s being held on a possession of marijuana charge, and “we expect there to be more charges filed,” Dillon said.
“Several arrests” have been made in connection with the slayings, and “others are hinging on what’s going on right now,” Chief Deputy Tim Kean of the San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday morning. Fewer than five people have been arrested beyond Oropesa, he said.
The massacre is among more than 180 US mass shootings this year.
The manhunt had stretched from the US South into Mexico.
Oropesa, 38, is accused of gunning down five people Friday night after he was asked to stop firing his rifle outside near his neighbor’s home.
Wilson Garcia, whose wife and son were killed, and two others had asked Oropesa to shoot on the other side of his property because the gunfire was waking Garcia’s baby, he told CNN. The suspect refused and soon unleashed gunfire into the home where Garcia’s family and friends were gathered, he said.
The victims – all Honduran nationals – have been identified as Garcia’s wife, Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25, and her son Daniel Enrique Laso-Guzman, 9; Diana Velázquez Alvarado, 21; Julisa Molina Rivera, 31, and José Jonathan Cásarez, 18.
Authorities are waiting to learn whether the mass shooting weapon has been recovered. “As of now, we may have the weapon, but we have to wait for ballistics (testing),” Kean said at a news conference.
Authorities now have 90 days to indict Oropesa, and the Mexican consulate will be formally notified Wednesday of his circumstances, a law enforcement source involved said.
At least four times since 2009, Oropesa had entered the US unlawfully and been deported, according to an ICE source. An immigration judge first removed him in March 2009 before he was deported again in September 2009, January 2012 and July 2016, the source said.
It’s unclear how long Oropesa had been in the US before last week’s attack. He and Nava have been together for about 12 years and share a home and a child, a source who knows the family told CNN, though they are not legally married. The woman in the Montgomery County booking photo is Nava, the source confirmed.
In the end, it was information submitted through the FBI’s tip line that pointed investigators to the home where Oropesa was discovered, FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jimmy Paul said Tuesday night.
Federal, state and local authorities had devoted considerable resources to hunting for the fugitive, including a collective $80,000 reward for information leading to his arrest and more than 200 law enforcement officers on the case, officials have said.
Officials’ efforts may have been stymied by a lack of trust in law enforcement. Some Latinos, particularly immigrants, fear contact with law enforcement could lead to questions about their immigration status and lead to deportation, they told CNN.
After initial leads on Oropesa went cold over the weekend, authorities pleaded for tips – which eventually came in from Texas, Wyoming, Florida, Maryland and Oklahoma, the sheriff said.
“We just want to thank the person who had the courage and bravery to call in the suspect’s location,” Paul said.
It’s not clear if law enforcement had tracked Oropesa’s wife to the home before or after the tip was sent to the FBI.
Once they had zeroed in on the house, members of the Texas Department of Public Safety, US Marshals Service and US Customs and Border Patrol’s tactical unit, known as BORTAC, entered the home and brought the suspect into custody, an FBI Houston spokesperson said.
Evelyn Echeverria, 16, had been lying in bed around 6 p.m. when she heard helicopters flying above her home, she told CNN.
“I headed out and saw a lot of cops and maybe 20 minutes later they came out with him,” said Echeverria, who took video of the apprehension. “He came out handcuffed. He looked like he was cooperating with the officers.”
Officers led Oropesa through the yard of a house, then gathered around him as he sat in a law enforcement vehicle, witness videos show.
“We are so happy,” Jefrinson Rivera, the partner of Velázquez Alvarado, told CNN of the arrest.
The sheriff’s office said the home where Oropesa was found is in the small city of Cut and Shoot, while the FBI Houston office tweeted it is in adjacent Conroe. The BORTAC unit has played a key role in several high-profile US operations, including the mass shooting last year at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, where its members fatally shot that gunman, authorities said.
More than a dozen family members and friends were gathered Friday in the Cleveland home, said Garcia, whose wife and son were killed. They were helping his wife get ready for a church event, he said.
But their evening was disturbed by gunshots fired by Oropesa outside his home next door, the father said. The shots were waking up Garcia’s baby and making him cry.
About 10 to 20 minutes before the suspected gunman opened fire, Garcia and two others walked over to Oropesa to ask that he instead shoot on the other side of his property, he said.
The suspect refused, and Garcia said he would call police.
“We walked inside and my wife was talking to the police, and we called five times because he was being more threatening,” Garcia recalled.
At some point, they watched as Oropesa walked off his property and cocked his gun, Garcia said. Concerned, he told his wife to come inside the house.
“My wife said, ‘You go inside, I don’t think he will fire at me because I’m a woman, I’ll stay here at the door.’”
Soon after, the gunman charged into Garcia’s home, first shooting his wife, Argentina Guzman, in the doorway before killing three other adults and Garcia’s son Daniel, the grieving father said.
“One of the people who died saw when my wife fell to the ground,” Garcia told CNN. “She told me to throw myself out the window because my children were already without a mother. So one of us had to stay alive to take care of them. She was the person who helped me jump out the window.”
The victims were shot “almost execution style” at close range above the neck, Capers told local media.
Officers responded to the scene as fast as they could, the sheriff said. But his small force covers a large county, he said, and the home is about 15 minutes outside town.