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Survivors wonder why help didn’t come sooner


The 911 calls started long before the gunshots.

Wilson Garcia said he and his wife first called police late Friday night after their neighbor refused to stop firing a gun outside and threatened them.

They waited.

Then the neighbor showed up at the house, occupied by several members of an extended family from Honduras. He had a gun. He started shooting.

Ramiro Guzman said he snuck into a closet with his wife and infant son. He called 911 several times. Each time, he says, a dispatcher told him that deputies were already there.

They weren’t.

“They would cut the call. I would call back,” Guzman recalled in an interview. “Then I called my aunt who lives two blocks away to see if she could answer him. I thought maybe they didn’t believe me and that’s why they didn’t want to help me, but maybe they would.

By the time San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrived, five people — including Garcia’s wife and 9-year-old son — had been fatally injured. And the shooter had fled.

Garcia and Guzman recalled their ordeals on Monday as the hunt for suspected killer Francisco Oropesa dragged into a third day. Both wondered why the deputies had not arrived earlier.

“It was half an hour after we started calling,” Guzman said. “I wonder if they had come for those 30 minutes, it wouldn’t have happened. Maybe my family would still be alive.

Authorities in San Jacinto County, where the shooting happened, did not respond to requests for records showing the number of calls for help from the home and how long it took officers to arrive . San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers, whose deputies responded to the scene, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Capers told reporters on Saturday that “a few seconds” passed between the harassing call and others reporting a shooting. The Associated Press quoted him as saying he had only three deputies covering a county spread over 700 square miles. The county has about 27,000 inhabitants.

The location of the shooting, in the southern tip of the county, makes it difficult for law enforcement to access, San Jacinto District Attorney Todd Dillon said. More than half of the county is Sam Houston National Forest, with few roads passing through it. Under ideal conditions, without traffic, it would take no less than 45 minutes to reach the scene from the northern county line, Dillon said. The neighborhood where the shooting took place has dirt roads riddled with potholes, he added.

Dillon also noted that the 911 calls started out as a harassment complaint, a fairly common allegation that would typically not be prioritized. But after callers reported violence, it sparked a full-scale response from the sheriff’s office and neighboring agencies.

“They rushed to make it happen as soon as the information came out,” Dillon said. “It just took them a while to get there because they weren’t staged to get there quickly.”

David Brandon, a San Jacinto County commissioner who lives in Cleveland, said the county, like many rural counties in Texas, doesn’t have the money to pay for more coverage.

“We would like to have 50 assistants per team. Can we afford it or maintain it? No,” Brandon said. “We can only give what we can sustain and sustain.”

Guzman said the police response weakened his faith in US law enforcement. “So much time has passed,” he said. “The whole thing lasted about an hour. Why did they have to come when it was already too late?

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.