By Juan A. Lozano and Nomaan Merchant
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CLEVELAND, Texas — A woman identified as the wife of a Texas man suspected of killing five of his neighbors was arrested Wednesday for allegedly helping the man elude capture for four days, authorities said, and a third person is expected to face similar charges.
Divimara Lamar Nava, 53, identified as the wife of suspect Francisco Oropeza, was in custody in connection with the Friday night shooting, according to Montgomery County Sheriff Rand Henderson.
Although Henderson identified Nava as Oropeza’s wife, jail records list her as not being legally married. The two share a home address, according to the records.
Nava had previously denied knowledge of Oropeza’s whereabouts, Henderson said, but authorities believe she hid him in the home near Conroe where he was arrested Tuesday.
Lamar Nava was arrested early Wednesday and was being held in the Montgomery County jail on a felony charge of hindering the apprehension or prosecution of a known felon, according to online jail records. The records do not list a bond for her and indicate she was arrested by state police at a home in Conroe.
Also, San Jacinto County District Attorney Todd Dillon said a “friend” of Oropeza’s, Domingo Castilla, was also arrested Tuesday in the neighborhood where the shooting took place. Castilla was taken in for marijuana possession but authorities “expect” to also charge him with other crimes, including hindering Oropeza’s apprehension, Dillon said.
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 a house.
At a news conference Wednesday morning in Coldspring, Tim Kean, chief deputy with the San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Office, said authorities spotted Oropeza, 38, on Monday afternoon in Montgomery County, prompting the lockdown of several schools.
“We did confirm that was him on foot, running but we lost track of him. That was not a false alarm. That was him,” Kean said outside the county jail.
The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office had previously said reports of a possible sighting of Oropeza in the area was a false alarm.
Kean declined to comment on the tip the led authorities to the home where Oropeza was arrested as well as on when he had arrived or how he got to there. Kean said the home had not been previously checked by authorities.
Kean said Oropeza only mildly resisted arrest and was not injured.
Kean said there have been several other arrests “but I can’t go into the details on that.”
Kean said the home where Oropeza was arrested has a personal connection to the suspect. He declined to provide more details, but said there was no indication Oropeza was about to leave.
“I believe he thought he was in a safe spot,” Kean said.
Oropeza was expected to appear before a judge inside the San Jacinto County Jail on Wednesday and the judge would formally set his bond at $5 million, Kean said.
The home is near the community of Conroe, north of Houston and about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from his home in the rural town of Cleveland. That’s where authorities say he went next door and shot his neighbors with an AR-style rifle shortly before midnight Friday.
Oropeza had been shooting rounds on his property and attack his neighbors after they asked him to go farther away because the gunfire was keeping a baby awake, according to police.
The arrest ends what had become a widening dragnet that had grown to more than 250 people from multiple jurisdictions and had seen $80,000 in reward money offered. As recently as Tuesday morning, the FBI said that Oropeza “could be anywhere,” underlining how investigators for days struggled to get a sense of his whereabouts and candidly acknowledged they had no leads.
The tip that finally ended the chase came at 5:15 p.m., and a little more than an hour later, Oropeza was in custody, said FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jimmy Paul. The alleged shooter is a Mexican national who has been deported four times between 2009 and 2016, according to U.S. immigration officials.
Connor Hagan, an FBI spokesman, said they would not disclose the identity of the person who called in the tip — one of more than 200 tips he says investigators received.
Authorities would not say where Oropeza had been since fleeing the scene in Cleveland, which authorities previously said was likely on foot.
Hagan said the three agencies that went in to arrest Oropeza were the U.S. Marshals, Texas Department of Public Safety and US Border Patrol’s BORTAC team.
Drones and scent-tracking dogs had been used during the widening manhunt, which included combing a heavily wooded forest a few miles from the scene. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott offered a $50,000 reward as the search dragged late into the weekend, while others offered an additional $30,000 in reward money.
Capers said that prior to Friday’s shooting deputies had been called to the suspect’s house at least one other time previously over shooting rounds in his yard.
All of the victims were from Honduras. Wilson Garcia, who survived the shooting, said friends and family in the home tried to hide and shield themselves and children after Oropeza walked up to the home and began firing, killing his wife first at the front door.
The victims were identified as Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Julisa Molina Rivera, 31; Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18; Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25; and Daniel Enrique Laso, 9.
A government official in Honduras said the remains of four of the victims would be repatriated. Vel?squez 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.
Osm?n Vel?squez, Diana’s father, said Tuesday that his daughter had recently gotten residency and 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.”
In offering the reward, Abbott called the victims “illegal immigrants,” a partially false statement that his office walked back and apologized for Monday after drawing wide backlash over drawing attention to their immigration status. Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze said they had since learned that one of the victims may have been in the country legally.