I woke up on Saturday morning to the news of a mass murder in Cleveland, Texas. This was particularly jarring to me because I lived in Cleveland for about five years. It’s a small town of about 8,000 people that is ironically located a short distance away from Dayton, Texas. I’m sure the murders shocked the town.
Late Friday night, a man was shooting his AR-15 in the yard. That’s unusual behavior even for Texas. Reports say that a family with a baby asked the man to stop shooting because the gunfire was keeping the baby awake. At that point, the man, later identified as Francisco Oropeza, went to the neighboring house, which was occupied by 10 people, and killed five of them “execution style.” The dead included an eight-year-old boy.
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Three days later, Oropeza is still at large and the two political parties are establishing their narratives for why the killings happened. The left is blaming access to AR-15s and the right is emphasizing the fact that Oropeza is a Mexican national. There are also reports that he is an illegal immigrant.
When my family first moved to Cleveland, it was a small farming town that was becoming a bedroom community for Houston. Cleveland is located up Highway 59 to the northeast of the metropolitan area. We went there because it was far enough out that we could afford some acreage for farm animals but close enough to be commutable to my job at Hobby airport.
We lived on the east side of Cleveland in an area called Tarkington Prairie. This was low-lying land with bayous similar to what you’d find in Louisiana. It did not fit my image of a Texas full of cactuses (in fact, East Texas is part of an immense pine forest that runs east to the Atlantic), but there were a lot of cowboys. One enduring image in my mind is that of a man riding a bicycle along one of the main roads out of town and balancing a large square hay bale on the handlebars.
About the time that we moved after I accepted a job in Georgia, the area was changing again. Because the county had no zoning laws, speculators were buying up cheap farmland and splitting it into small lots. These lots were sold to recent immigrants. Some put campers on their lots while others built small houses. These houses must have been up to code, but many seemed to be thrown together from whatever materials were at hand. The influx of low-income recent immigrants overwhelmed city and county services such as schools. This dynamic explains why the residents of the house where the murders took place included 10 immigrants from Honduras who apparently were part of more than one family.
But it wasn’t just the influx of immigrants that caused crime in the area. I’ve written before about how the statistics do not support the notion of a violent crime wave by illegal immigrants. Because they live in the shadows, illegals are probably the prey of violent criminals far more than they are the predators.
Last week’s murder was not the first violence in the area. When we lived there, there were whispered references to Liberty County’s many missing persons. (The recent murders occurred across the county line in San Jacinto County.) The implication was that most of these people probably ended up as alligator food in the backwaters of the bayous. Meth drove crimes such as burglaries that sometimes became violent.
In 2019, after we had left the area, a vagrant killed a woman and shot three others at a plumbing company about two miles from where I used to live. The perpetrator wounded a police officer in the neck before finally turning his gun on himself.
When I first heard the news of the murders, my first thought was that it was another spree killing. My second thought was to wonder if it was the work of a man who lived down the road from us and was known to be a violent crackpot who had run afoul of police on numerous occasions. This guy was a white man of Anglo ethnicity, armed despite a criminal record, and mentally unbalanced at least partially due to substance abuse. I remember that once he cut down a tree to block the road. He had been to jail several times but always got out.
I was wrong on both counts. It wasn’t a random murder spree. These are rare despite the larger number of such attacks in the headlines recently. It also wasn’t our old neighbor, who I won’t name.
But not all illegals are innocent either. And Francisco Oropeza is one of the illegals who is not innocent.
At this point, Oropeza is still at large and we have more questions than answers. We may never know why he did what he did, but I suspect that drugs and/or alcohol were involved. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were other red flags such as previously violent behavior or signs of mental illness as well. After all, his actions are far outside the mainstream, even for Texas.
There are reports that shooting in his yard late at night was normal for Oropeza. This suggests a pattern of abnormal and potentially violent behavior, but it is not clear whether he was known to police. If his neighbors were immigrants, either legal or illegal, they might not have wanted to become involved with authorities by reporting his behavior.
Another question is how and where Oropeza got his AR-15. If he was in the US illegally, he would not be able to purchase a gun. At least not legally.
It’s tempting to blame the AR-15, but Cleveland’s violent crime rate was above the national average even before last week, although in terms of murders, we’d have to go back to 2016 to accumulate as many murders as last weekend. As far as I can tell, none of these murders in recent years were committed with an AR-15. Most, like the murder of the woman at my plumber’s office, seem to have been committed with handguns.
FBI violent crime statistics show that only about four percent of homicides committed with a gun involve a rifle of any type. AR-15 murders would be an even smaller subset of rifle murders. Texas murder statistics are almost identical.
As I noted earlier, we don’t yet have all the facts in this case, but we can say that a man who was in the country illegally should not have had access to a gun of any sort. We can also say that a man who was deported multiple times should not have been in the country at all.
From what I know at this point, this tragedy would suggest reforms along two tracks. First, we need laws that will help to prevent criminals and violent people from being able to access guns. Second, we need comprehensive immigration reform that includes both border security and an overhaul of the bureaucracy to make it easier to come here legally.
Neither side is going to suggest anything as nuanced as what we need. The left is going to say that all ARs must go (if not all guns) while the right is going to say that all illegals (if not all immigrants) must go.
Neither plan is a real solution because neither plan is workable. These are just rallying cries to stir their respective bases and generate donations.
We probably can’t prevent all murders, but we should act to prevent them where possible. In order to do that, we need to focus on practical ideas that will make it more difficult to kill people. I’m open to discussion of what those ideas should be, but they should focus on those who have already committed crimes or have shown themselves likely to become violent in the future.
ANOTHER BANK FAILURE: Federal regulators shut down First Republic Bank and reached a deal to sell the company to JP Morgan. The Wall Street Journal reports that First Republic’s problems lay in the rising interest rates used to combat inflation. This failure follows that of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank in March.
The Journal reports that First Republic was an outlier, with most regional banks reporting much more modest losses from rising interest rates.
“This is the last stages of that initial panic. First Republic’s problems started as a result of SVB and Signature,” Steven Kelly, a Yale financial researcher said. “This isn’t the story of 2008, where one bank went down and investors focused on the next biggest bank, which would wobble.”
KOREAN PIE: If you need a palate cleanser after murders and bank failures, check out this video of President Biden persuading the president of South Korea to sing “American Pie.”