A man who narrowly survived after losing his wife and young son in a deadly shooting in Cleveland, Texas, spoke out about what prompted a neighbor to open fire on the family.
Wilson Garcia spoke to reporters Sunday afternoon at a vigil hosted at Northside Elementary Sunday. That's where his son, Daniel Enrique Laso Guzman, attended the third grade before the boy was murdered at home Friday evening. It was Garcia's wife, Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25, who was the first to be fatally shot, allegedly by 38-year-old suspect Francisco Oropesa, according to authorities.
"My wife died, and my 9-year-old son died," Garcia told KHOU in Spanish on Sunday. "What can I say, I am trying to stay strong for my children. My daughter kind of gets, understands things. It's hard when she comes to me and starts asking for her mom and her brother."
People in their rural town north of Houston are used to people firing their weapons to blow off steam, but it was late Friday night, and Garcia had a month-old son who was crying.
So, Garcia said, he and two other people went to his neighbor’s house to "respectfully" ask that Oropesa shoot farther away from their home.
"He told us he was on his property, and he could do what he wanted," Garcia said Sunday.
Garcia called the police after Oropesa rejected his request. The man shot some more, and now it sounded louder. In the neighborhood of homes on one-acre lots, Garcia could see the man on his front porch but couldn’t tell what he was doing. His family continued to called police – five calls in all, Garcia said. Five times the dispatcher assured that help was coming.
And then, 10 to 20 minutes after Garcia had walked back from Oropesa's house, the man started running toward him, and reloading.
"I told my wife, ‘Get inside. This man has loaded his weapon,'" Garcia said. "My wife told me to go inside because ‘he won’t fire at me, I’m a woman.’"
The gunman walked up to the home and began firing. Garcia’s wife, Sonia Argentina Guzman, was at the front door.
The house held 15 people in all, several of them friends who had been there to join Garcia’s wife on a church retreat. The gunman seemed intent on killing everyone, Garcia said.
Two women who died – Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21, and Julisa Molina Rivera, 31 – were killed while shielding Garcia’s baby, 2-year-old daughter and a third child. Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18, was also killed.
Garcia said one of the women had told him to jump out a window "because my children were without a mother and one of their parents had to stay alive to take care of them."
"This tragedy that unfolded. He had no right. We never offended him. We never disrespected him," another survivor, Jefrinson Rivera, told FOX 26 Houston in a separate interview.
Garcia, seated on a couch beside Rivera, later told FOX 26 he soon came back to the house where he encountered the gunman.
"That’s when the suspect shot at me. He shot at me five times in the house. When he didn’t catch me, he returned to gun them down again, and he shot them in the head," Garcia said.
"I looked to my left, and he was pointing his gun at me," Rivera recalled. "He told me, ‘I was looking for you. I’m going to kill you.’"
The men said they threw a machete at Oropesa and were able to run to safety.
"Five people died. Diana and Julisa died covering the children. They died defending the children," Rivera said. "I’m scared because he can come back and look for us, but we’re hoping that police do their job and arrest him."
San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers has said the surviving three children were covered in blood and brought to a hospital by ambulance, but were physically unharmed.
FBI Houston said Monday morning that Oropesa remained at large. More than 250 law enforcement officers from over a dozen local, state and federal agencies are actively searching. Garcia and the deceased victims were from Honduras. Oropesa, a Mexican national, was reportedly in the U.S. illegally and had been deported at least five times.
Oropesa was previously ordered removed by an immigration judge on March 16, 2009, and subsequently removed by ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Houston to Mexico on March 17, 2009, a spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told Fox News. At an unknown time and location, Oropesa unlawfully reentered the United States, and was apprehended and removed several more times by ICE ERO in September 2009, January 2012, and July 2016.
Oropesa, who sometimes uses the additional hyphenated surname Perez-Torres, has also been previously convicted in Montgomery County, Texas, of driving while intoxicated in January 2012, and sentenced to serve time in jail, the spokesperson said. As a result of the April 29 incident, the Cold Spring Texas Sheriff’s Office issued an arrest warrant for Oropesa for homicide. He is wanted by the San Jacinto County Sheriff's Office in connection to the suspected shooter incident in Cleveland, Texas.
Fox News' Bill Melugin and the Associated Press contributed to this report.