'Imagine how that feels': Community mourns Cleveland shooting victims as search for gunman continues

Shannon Ryan Image
Tuesday, May 2, 2023
Cleveland ISD holds vigil for 3rd-grader killed; gunman still at large
Cleveland ISD held a vigil for the Northside Elementary 3rd-grader who was one of five killed by their neighbor and now-fugitive Francisco Oropesa.

CLEVELAND, Texas (KTRK) -- Cleveland ISD held a vigil for murdered third-grade student Daniel Enrique Lazo Guzmán Sunday.

The Northside Elementary student was one of five people who were shot to death "execution-style" inside his family home in Cleveland, Texas, on Friday night. Monday was the first day students and teachers returned to the classroom without him.

"What else can you say? Sorry is just not even good enough," vigil attendee Chris Brown told ABC13.

Mourners embraced Guzmán's crying stepfather, Wilson Garcia, during the vigil. His wife, Sonia Argentina Guzmán Taibot, was also killed in the attack.

Garcia said the shooting happened after he asked his next-door neighbor, Francisco Oropesa, to stop shooting his AR-15 close to the family's home. He said it scared his 1-and-a-half-month-old, causing them to scream and cry. Oropesa told Garcia that it was his right to shoot in his yard. Garcia told him he was going to call the police.

Shortly after, Garcia said the family saw Oropesa approaching the home with a gun. Garcia said his wife told him, "Go inside. I don't think he'll shoot me. I'm a woman."

Garcia said he shot her in the head "without saying a word," then went room to room, killing his loved ones.

Eighteen-year-old Josué Jonatan Cáceres, 31-year-old Obdulia Molina Rivera, and 21-year-old Diana Velasquez Alvarado were also murdered in the attack. Garcia said Rivera and Alvarado saved his life, along with his 2-year-old and 1-and-a-half-month-old.

"He told me to jump through the window because my kids were already motherless. That one of us had to stay alive to take care of them. She helped me get out the window. She's also gone. She died," he said.

San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said the women's bodies were found on top of the surviving children. Garcia said they also used clothing to conceal the newborn.

RELATED: Leaders hold vigil to honor 5 people shot to death in SE Texas in place of canceled fundraiser

"Imagine how that feels," Garcia said.

Garcia said he is now parenting the couples' 1-and-a-half-month-old and 2-year-old alone.

"I'm trying to be strong for my kids. My daughter, she kind of knows what's going on. It's difficult when she comes, and she starts to ask for mommy and her brother," he said.

On Monday, Cleveland ISD said it would have counselors onsite for students and staff.

There were at least 10 people in the home at the time of the shooting, according to Garcia. He said they were all family or friends. He said they were in the house preparing for a weekend church retreat.

An $80,000 reward is being offered for information on Oropesa's whereabouts. The money comes from the FBI, local crime-stopper agencies, and the state. Gov. Greg Abbott referred to the murder victims as "illegal immigrants" when announcing the reward on Sunday.

Jefrinson Josué Rivera, longtime partner of Alvarado, told ABC News that she was a lawful permanent resident, not an undocumented immigrant as Abbott claimed.

In Spanish, Rivera said the Governor was "inhumane" for referring to the victims, all friends or relatives of his, in this way.

Rivera says they were together for about six years but hadn't gotten married yet. Through tears he described how he wants Diana to be remembered: "She was warrior, she gave everything for her children. She never had issues with anyone. She was happy, humble and caring. She was so attentive to her children, her friends, and to me."

SEE ALSO: Surviving homeowner says he 'can't believe it' following gunman's rampage in Cleveland Texas

A spokesperson for Abbott appeared to walk back the governor's comment in a statement to ABC News on Monday afternoon - claiming that federal authorities had told them the suspect and victims "were in the country illegally" but that they have since learned at least one of the victims "may have been in the United States legally" - and that they "regret" if the information was an incorrect distraction.

"My heart is with this 8-year-old little boy. I don't care if he was here legally. I don't care if he was here illegally. He was in my county. Five people died in my county, and that is where my heart is," Capers said at an FBI press conference on Sunday.

The FBI released the photograph of a different man with a similar name and asked the media to circulate it as a photo of Oropesa on Sunday. ABC13 spoke with that man's wife on the phone. She said no one from the FBI attempted to contact them before the photo was disseminated. She said the agency pulled her husband's CDL photo. She said she now fears for her husband's career and their lives. She said her husband called the FBI and was told they would visit his home. As of Sunday evening, the family said they had yet to receive a visit or response from the FBI.

The agency stated, "An incorrect image of Francisco Oropeza was mistakenly disseminated earlier (Sunday). That image has since been removed from FBI social media accounts. The correct image of Oropeza is attached. The San Jacinto Sheriff's Office, FBI, and other local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies continue the fugitive investigation to find Oropeza."

Oropesa's name is still misspelled in the statement.

ABC13 asked FBI Special Agent in Charge James Smith to address the family's concerns during the press conference. He responded, "Well, we've already talked to him. I don't want to go further into the discussions we've had." When pressed, he again responded, "We've spoken to him."

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