The illegal immigrant from Mexico who allegedly gunned down five of his Texas neighbors reportedly had a “death cult” shrine in his bedroom – where candles were still seen burning two days after the massacre.
A law enforcement source who saw the scene told the Center for Immigration Studies that Francisco Oropesa’s elaborate shrine honored the “Santa Muerte death cult.”
The shrine of Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte, as it is formally called, included several statues of patron saints, a stack of $2 bills, flowers and tinfoil filled with an apparent drug – ostensibly offerings to protect the accused killer.
Two tall candles were still burning Monday, two days after Oropesa, 38, allegedly used an AR-15-style rifle to kill five neighbors when he was asked to stop firing the weapon in his Cleveland, Texas, yard.
The Mexican national — who has reportedly been deported four times — was captured Tuesday night while hiding underneath laundry in a home in the Texas city of Conroe after authorities received a tip about his whereabouts.
The following of Santa Muerte, the personification of death, began in Mexico during the mid-20th century and its devotees have grown in number in the last 20 years or so.
It gained popularity among drug-trafficking cartel syndicates and also in the criminal underworld in general – with adherents believing the prayers and offerings provide them with protection from the law.
One of Oropesa’s tattoos features the traditional Santa Muerte figure, a skeletal figure draped in robes and clutching a sickle, the Center for Immigration Studies noted.
“Anyone who has a Santa Muerta shrine is linked to the criminal underworld,” retired Texas Department of Public Safety Capt. Jaeson Jones, who worked for years on intelligence to fight Mexico’s drug cartels, told CIS.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re connected to the cartels, even though the cartels all over Mexico follow the cult. But you can at least link him to the criminal underground through Santa Muerta,” he added.
Oropesa, who faces five counts of murder, will be held on $5 million bond, San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said Tuesday night after the suspect was collared.
Grieving dad Wilson Garcia said his wife confronted Oropesa, believing he wouldn’t shoot a woman — but Sonia Guzman, 25, was the first to die, followed by her son, Daniel Enrique Laso, 9, who rushed to try to help her.
The other victims have been identified as Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21, Julisa Molina Rivera, 31, and Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18.
All were said to have been shot “execution-style,” from the neck up.