By JUAN A. LOZANO and NOMAAN MERCHANT (Associated Press)
CLEVELAND, Texas (AP) — The partner of a Texas man suspected of killing five of his neighbors after they asked him to stop shooting his gun near their house was arrested Wednesday for helping him to elude capture. At least one other person is likely to face similar charges, authorities said.
Divimara Lamar Nava had previously denied knowing where Francisco Oropeza was, but authorities believe she hid him in the home where he was arrested late Tuesday, just 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the city of Cleveland, where Friday’s fatal shootings took place, said Montgomery County Sheriff Rand Henderson.
Oropeza had a personal connection to the home near the city of Conroe, where Lamar Nava was also arrested, according to Montgomery Chief Deputy Sheriff Tim Kean. He didn’t elaborate.
“I believe he thought he was in a safe spot,” Kean said.
Lamar Nava is being held at the Montgomery County jail on a felony charge of hindering the apprehension or prosecution of a known felon, according to online jail records. Henderson identified Lamar Nava as Oropeza’s wife, though jail records list her as not being married but sharing a home address with him.
The slayings Friday sent shudders through a nation already dealing with a wave of shootings that have put the U.S. on a torrid pace for mass killings this year.
Outside the Conroe-area home where the pair were taken into custody, yellow police tape could be seen in both the front and back, although the officers were gone. Neighbor Angel Lozano recalled looking up from unloading tools from his truck Tuesday night to see unmarked law enforcement vehicles streaming onto his normally quiet street.
“A bunch of people got out with guns and they went straight to the house and surrounded the area,” Lozano, 39, said Wednesday, estimating that at least 50 officers surrounded the home two doors down from his. “It was a really fast job they did. They got him without people getting hurt or another shooting.”
Several others have also been arrested, authorities said, although they only shared details about one of them. Domingo Castilla, a friend of Oropeza, was arrested on Tuesday in the Trail’s End neighborhood where the victims were shot, said San Jacinto County District Attorney Todd Dillon. Castilla was charged with marijuana possession but authorities also expect to charge him with obstructing Oropeza’s apprehension, Dillon said.
At a news conference Wednesday, Kean said he couldn’t go into details about the other people who were arrested, including how many.
Oropeza was charged Wednesday with five counts of first-degree murder during a court hearing in jail, said San Jacinto County Justice of the Peace Judge Randy Ellisor. Bond is set at $1.5 million per count, for a total of $7.5 million, Ellisor said. Bond for Castilla was set at $5,000, he said. Oropeza is a Mexican national who has been deported four times between 2009 and 2016, according to U.S. immigration officials.
A four-day manhunt for Oropeza ended Tuesday when authorities, acting on a tip, said they found the suspect hiding underneath a pile of laundry in the closet of the Conroe house.
Police had previously spotted Oropeza on Monday afternoon in Montgomery County, prompting several schools to lock down, Kean said at a news conference outside the county jail Wednesday.
“We did confirm that was him on foot, running, but we lost track of him,” Kean said.
Kean declined to comment on the tip that led authorities to the Conroe home, which he said was one that had not been previously checked by authorities.
The arrest came after authorities set up a widening dragnet of more than 250 people, drones and search dogs from multiple jurisdictions and offered $80,000 in reward money. The tip that finally ended the chase came at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday. A little more than an hour later, Oropeza was in custody, said FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jimmy Paul.
Lozano said he hadn’t known the residents of the home where Oropeza was arrested but would sometimes say hi to them if they were walking by his house. “We never thought he was going to be right next door,” he said.
The victims have been identified as Diana Velásquez Alvarado, 21; Julisa Molina Rivera, 31; Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18; Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25; and Daniel Enrique Laso, 9, all from Honduras. Velásquez Alvarado’s father, Osmán Velásquez, said she had recently obtained legal residency in the U.S.
Velásquez Alvarado’s husband, Wilson Garcia, survived the shooting. He said friends and family in the home tried to hide and shield the children after Oropeza walked up to the home and began firing, killing his wife first at the front door.
When offering a reward for Oropeza’s capture, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called the victims “illegal immigrants,” which drew widespread backlash. His office apologized on Monday.
A government official in Honduras said the remains of four of the victims would be repatriated. Velásquez Alvarado will be buried in the United States at the request of her sister and her husband, said Wilson Paz, general director of Honduras’ migrant protection service.
Osmán Velásquez said his daughter had traveled to the United States without documents eight years ago with the help of a sister who was already living there.
“Her sister convinced me to let her take my daughter. She told me the United States is a country of opportunities and that’s true,” he said. “But I never imagined it was just for this.”
Merchant reported from Washington. Associated Press reporters Jake Bleiberg in Dallas; Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas; Mike Wyke in Coldspring, Texas; Marlon González in Tegucigalpa, Honduras; and AP researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.
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