For nearly two days, Mr Abbott failed to address the act of senseless violence that shook residents of Cleveland, Texas, on Friday (28 April).
Finally, on Sunday, Mr Abbott’s office released a statement announcing a $50,000 reward for the suspected gunman Francisco Oropresa. In the first line, the suspect was called a “top 10 fugitive who is in the country illegally and killed five illegal immigrants in a shooting” within the first line.
Later in the statement, Mr Abbott said, “Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of the five victims that were taken in this senseless act of violence.”
“I continue working with state and local officials to ensure they have all available resources to respond to this horrific crime. I thank the men and women in law enforcement who are tirelessly working to ensure this criminal is caught and brought to justice,” Mr Abbott added.
Mr Abbott also tweeted a link to the statement as well as the line in which he called the victims illegal immigrants.
The Texas governor’s statement and tweet were met with backlash from people who felt including the immigration status of the victims was unnecessary and aggressive.
Actor George Takei wrote: “This is despicable. I would have thought bringing up the immigration status of the innocent victims of this senseless violence would be beneath even you. But I was wrong.”
“You can just say ‘people.’ They were people,” Michael Kagan, the director of the University of Las Vegas Immigration Clinic tweeted.
“Five human beings lost their lives and Greg Abbott insists on labeling them ‘illegal immigrants,’” responded Julián Castro, the former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
“Would it be any different if they were all born in the USA??” another Twitter user wrote.
Announcing a $50K reward for a @TxDPS top 10 fugitive who is in the country illegally and killed five illegal immigrants Friday night.
I also directed #OperationLoneStar to be on the lookout for the criminal and any attempts to flee the country.https://t.co/SLJcBRPrmO pic.twitter.com/2RWrSDkRBa
— Gov. Greg Abbott (@GovAbbott) April 30, 2023
The five victims, Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25, Diana Velázquez Alvarado, 21, Julisa Molina Rivera, 31, José Jonathan Cásarez, 18, and Daniel Enrique Laso, 9, were all from Honduras according to reports.
However, the husband of Ms Velázquez Alvarado told an immigration rights activist named Carlos Espina that his wife was a permanent resident of the US.
Mr Espina tweeted a photo of Ms Velázquez Alvarado’s permanent resident card as proof.
I just spoke to the husband of one of the victims. He confirmed to me that his wife was a permanent resident of the US. He even sent me a picture of her ID confirming this.
But I guess to Greg Abbott, anyone who is from another country is an ‘ilegal immigrant’. Shameful. https://t.co/O2AphCodlh pic.twitter.com/YjGLdBMtRl
— Carlos Eduardo Espina (@cespina1998) May 1, 2023
The Independent was not immediately able to verify Ms Velázquez Alvarado’s immigration status.
All five victims were allegedly shot and killed by their neighbor, identified as Mr Oropesa, after he was asked to stop firing his gun in his backyard.
Wilson Garcia, whose son and wife were among the victims killed, told the public that he went over to Mr Oropesa to stop firing his gun on Friday evening because it was keeping his baby awake.
ââ“He told us he was on his property, and he could do what he wanted,” Mr Garcia told people on Sunday after a vigil.
Mr Oropesa, who had reportedly been drinking that same night, walked into the neighbor’s home and began shooting, according to authorities.
As of Sunday night, Mr Oropesa remained at large.