CLEVELAND, Texas — Members of a Texas family, allegedly attacked by a neighbor using an AR-15 rifle, called 911 five times and waited 20 minutes for deputies to come to their aid, a grieving father said.
And by the time San Jacinto County sheriff's deputies arrived, suspect Francisco Oropesa, 38, had escaped, and the bodies of five people, including a child, were found in the latest mass shooting to plague America.
Oropesa was still on the run Monday morning, and Wilson Garcia, who lost his wife and eldest son in the shooting, said he hopes the suspect is taken alive.
Father of child killed in Texas mass shooting speaks outMay 1, 202302:43
"I don’t want them [authorities] to kill him [Oropesa]," Garcia told NBC News on Sunday. "All I want is for them to apprehend him, put him in jail and make him pay for everything he did because it would be too easy if they just kill him and make his pain go away just like that."
The suspect, a Mexican national, had been deported four times, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He was removed from the U.S. twice in 2009 and once in 2012 and 2016, ICE said.
A request, then gunfire
Garcia's son, Daniel Enrique Laso, was the youngest victim, the San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Office said. He was 9, according to his father. The others killed in the attack were identified as Garcia's wife, Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25; Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Julisa Molina Rivera, 31; and Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18, the sheriff's office said.
Garcia and three other men were playing a parlor game outside the house in Cleveland, Texas, about 45 miles north of Houston, when his wife told him their month-old son was crying because of gunfire coming from Oropesa's home. She asked Garcia to go to Oropesa's residence and ask if he would stop shooting or move it farther away from their home.
The request by his wife didn't seem unreasonable, Garcia said, as they'd been on good terms with the neighbor.
Oropesa had helped him cut down a tree recently and both wives "got along very well," Garcia said.
Garcia said he and the three other men went to Oropesa’s home and "respectfully" asked him to curtail or move his target practice.
"So we went and told the man to please stop shooting, or go continue shooting further away from the house. But he answered by saying he was in his property and could do whatever he wants," Garcia said.
"I said, 'OK that's fine. It’s your property, but could you please move further away or turn it down, that’s all?' Then he began insulting us, and we told him we were calling the cops. My wife said, 'OK, let’s call the cops.' Police took, like, 20 minutes to arrive, and we called five times because the man was very threatening," he added.
It wasn't clear whether all the 911 calls came before, during or after the shooting.
A representative for the FBI, which has taken the lead in investigating the shooting, could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.
'My son died because he wanted to protect his mother'
Following the rejected request to stop shooting, Garcia said, he could see Oropesa on his porch, "smoking and drinking something," before "we saw him as he went inside his home to load the gun."
As Oropesa allegedly approached their house, Garcia said, he urged his wife to take cover inside, but she stood her ground.
"I told her to go inside, and she said she didn’t think the man would shoot her because she was a woman so instead asked me to go inside," Garcia said. "But he just walked in shooting. He didn’t say anything. He shot her, and the door was wide open. He walks in, room by room, shooting at us."
Daniel ran to his mortally wounded mother, only to meet the same fate, Garcia said.
"My son died because he wanted to protect his mother, because seeing her fallen, he took off running to where she was. And he [the suspect] had no compassion, to see a boy crying for his mother," Garcia said.
"My son, he died because he was defending his mother. When he saw her on the floor, he ran towards her, and that man had no compassion. A kid crying for his mom," he added.
Garcia tearfully recalled one of the victims' urging him to flee as soon as his wife, Guzman, was gunned down.
"One of the people who died saw when my wife fell to the floor," Garcia told Telemundo through tears. "She was agonizing but said to me to go through the window because my children were already without a mom, and one of them had to stay alive to care for them."
Oropesa allegedly went room to room looking for people to kill. Garcia's brother-in-law and his wife "were saved by a miracle" as they "covered themselves in clothing and covered the kid’s mouth so he wouldn’t cry," Garcia said.
"He walked in and didn’t see them, so he made his way to the other rooms, and began shooting," Garcia told NBC News, making a gunfire gesture with his hand.
Garcia urges suspect to surrender
Searchers on Saturday found Oropesa's cellphone and some of his clothing before scent-tracking dogs lost his trail, authorities said.
Garcia pleaded with Oropesa to surrender.
"I would let him know that I hope he repents. He has a son the same age as mine, and what if somebody would've taken the person he loves the most, like he did to me," Garcia said.
"That if he has any compassion, to reflect on what he did and that if he repents, then good, to turn himself in to authorities. Because the pain that we feel, I don't wish it upon anybody. He took my loved one, and I don't even wish this pain feeling that upon him," he added.
Priscilla Thompson reported from Cleveland, Texas; Maria Piñero from Miami; and David K. Li from New York City.