Mass shooting in Texas ends dreams of immigrant community

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Wilson Garcia and his family were part of the Hispanic immigrant community forged among the dense pine forests near Cleveland, Texas, through a combination of work, dedication, and love of family, friendship, and neighbors.

On a 4,046-square-meter (one-acre) piece of land purchased with a small down payment, Garcia built a home in the Trails End neighborhood to provide a home for his family and also to invite friends over. The green meadow around the house, located about 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of Houston, reminded Garcia of his native Honduras.

“In Honduras, he was a country man … he talked about how beautiful the country was,” recalled Johnny Ray Gibbs, who has known García for a decade. “I was asking him how is it there (in Cleveland)? And he would answer me, 'beautiful'”.

That beauty was destroyed by armed violence on April 28, when, according to the authorities, a neighbor, Francisco Oropeza, responded to requests that he stop firing his rifle in his garden at night, entering the house of Garcia and killing five people.

The victims included Garcia's wife, Sonia Argentina Guzman; his 9-year-old son Daniel Enrique Laso; friends Diana Velásquez Alvarado, 21 years old; José Jonathan Cáceres, 18, and Cáceres' girlfriend, Obdulia Julisa Molina Rivera, 29. They were all from Honduras.

As victims were remembered for their efforts to find a better life in the United States or for their courage in protecting children during the attack, Garcia and her neighbors wondered if the community will ever recover.

“I have no words to describe what happened. It's like I'm alive, but at the same time I'm not. What happened was something horrible, dark,” Garcia told reporters after the shooting.

Oropeza, 38, was captured after a four-day manhunt and charged with four counts of murder.

Weeks before the event, García, who works as an electrician, and Guzmán had celebrated the birth of their son. He joined Daniel and a two and a half year old sister. Wilson García's brother-in-law, Ramiro Guzmán, and his wife and his six-month-old son also lived in the house.

The other people who were in the house at the time of the attack were other family members and friends who used to come over on weekends, Garcia said.

Shawn Crawford, 52, who lives two houses away in the same neighborhood, said Garcia and his family "were just good people." Crawford and his grandchildren had attended birthday parties and barbecues at Garcia's home.

Guzmán's brother, Germán Guzmán, 28, said his sister came to the United States nine years ago to help the family.

"Here in Honduras there is no work," he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from La Misión, in central Honduras.

Crawford said that when Guzmán was pregnant last year, García went to Crawford's house and asked if he could take a pink flower that had grown on a yucca plant, because "it will be good for the baby." Crawford told her that she could take as many as she saw.

“This is our neighborhood, everyone helps each other,” Crawford said.

That neighborhood help was valuable, because Trails End wasn't always an easy place to live.

Residents have had to raise money on their own to fix potholes in the streets, because they are considered private roads and are not under county jurisdiction.

The massacre highlighted the continuing problem of residents shooting at their homes and the slowness of the police in responding to such complaints. Garcia had asked Oropeza if he could shoot a little farther, because the month-and-a-half baby was trying to sleep.

Dale Tiller, who has lived in the neighborhood for 13 years, said that despite the difficult circumstances, people want to live there for "the pride of owning their own home and having a better life."

Just a week before the massacre, Garcia had finished converting the garage into another room for the house. The tools and materials he used for it were still in front of the house, several days after the shooting.

“We do have problems, but we also have some very good people here,” Tiller said.

Idalmy Hernandez, 45, said she and other immigrants in Trails End have fought to make their dream of owning their own home come true. When she spoke to Garcia after the attack, he told her that he felt the dream was over.

“He is very sad,” said Hernández, who is from Honduras.

At a vigil in front of García's house, Guillermo Tobon, a 10-year-old boy, recalled how he used to play soccer with García's son, Daniel, when they waited for the school bus to arrive. Soccer was Daniel's favorite sport. The last time they played was the day before he died.

“We played for about 30 minutes until the bus came,” Tobon said.

Among the flowers and stuffed animals placed in a memorial in front of Garcia's home was a letter addressed to Daniel: “You were the best friend in the world. You were so good as a goalkeeper in soccer. You were the best teammate. You will always be in our hearts".

“It is very difficult because nothing like this has ever happened,” said Manuela Lara, who used to see García and his family at the Mexican food kiosk owned by Lara.

Velásquez Alvarado's father, Osmán Velásquez, said his daughter came to the United States eight years ago without documents, but had recently obtained resident status.

Jeffrison Rivera, Velásquez Alvarado's husband, said in a video posted on activist Carlos Eduardo Espina's Facebook page that Jonathan Cáceres was his nephew and had been like a father to Molina Rivera's two children. Rivera said that Molina Rivera had just arrived last year.

Rivera said her two children — one 6 years old and the other just 9 months old — were among the five children that Velásquez Alvarado and Molina Rivera protected, hiding them under a pile of clothes.

Oropeza “took my heart away. He left two children without his mother," Rivera said.

The remains of four of the victims will be repatriated to Honduras. Velásquez Alvarado will be buried in the United States.

Crawford said the killing, along with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's comment that the victims were "illegal immigrants," have spread fear in the neighborhood. She is not sure that she will return to normal.

“I hope he comes back because that's the beauty of this neighborhood,” Crawford said. ___ Correspondent Marlon González in Tegucigalpa, Honduras contributed to this story. ___ Juan A. Lozano is on Twitter as @juanlozano70

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Nathan Rivera
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