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Gov. Greg Abbott sparks outrage after calling San Jacinto County victims 'illegal immigrants'

In a tweet about the reward, the Texas governor pointed out that the 9-year-old boy, three women and a man shot to death were here illegally.

AUSTIN, Texas — Investigators announced a large reward Sunday with hopes that it will lead to the arrest of the man they said shot and killed five people in San Jacinto County late Friday night.

The San Jacinto County Sheriff's Office and the FBI announced that $80,000 is being offered for tips that lead them to 38-year-old Francisco Oropeza.

The victims included Sonia Argentina Guzmán, 28, and her 9-year-old son Daniel Enrique Lazo.    

"My wife died and so did my 9-year-old son. What can I say, I am trying to stay strong for my children," Wilson Garcia told us. "My daughter kind of understands things. It's hard when she comes to me and starts asking for her mom and her brother."

Two other women, Diana Velásquez, 21, and Obdulia Molina, 31, died while shielding Garcia and Guzman's baby and 2-year-old daughter, according to investigators.

Eighteen-year-old Jonathan Cáceres was also shot and killed when the gunman barged into the home and opened fire. 

Investigators said Oropeza went on the shooting rampage after the victims asked him to stop firing his gun on his property so their baby could sleep.

Anyone with information should call 1-800-FBI-TIPS. The phone line is available 24/7.

Abbott tweet causes Twitter backlash

On Sunday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted about the reward that includes $50,000 provided by the state. 

"I've announced a $50K reward for info on the criminal who killed 5 illegal immigrants Friday. Also directed #OperationLoneStar to be on the lookout," he tweeted. "I continue working with state and local officials to ensure all available resources are deployed to respond."

It was his reference to the victims as "illegal immigrants" that triggered a heated response and over 14,000 comments as of Monday morning, many of them critical of the governor.

"Why is it relevant to call these people illegal immigrants? Why is it relevant to bring up immigration status? What the governor and everybody should be focused on is catching the murderer who committed this heinous act," Cesar Espinosa, with FIEL, said.

Espinosa said the comments make those who might know the suspect less inclined to come forward out of fear that they could be arrested.

"We know that this person was an immigrant himself. We hear multiple reports that he was deported before, so more than likely, the people that know him, the people that are around him, are also immigrants and we want them to cooperate with the authorities," Espinosa said.

On Monday, the League of United Latin American Citizens demanded an apology.

"What would Jesus say to the mass shooting victims?" LULAC National President Domingo Garcia asked. "Governor Abbott's words are unchristian. It is indefensible to any right-hearted Texan to use divisive language to smear innocent victims, including an 8-year-old boy." 

"It is important to recognize that the mass shooting victims were individuals with families, hopes, and dreams," LULAC National Immigration Chair Lydia Guzman said. "They were loved ones whose lives were tragically cut short. They were not mere statistics or faceless criminals."

Among those criticizing Abbott was outspoken actor and activist George Takei. 

"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," Takei tweeted. 

Others called the governor's statement, "vile and disparaging," "barbaric," and "shameful."  

Some shared photos of the victims and accused Abbott of trying to "dehumanize" them.

Critics included Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee.

A handful of commenters defended Abbott. 

We reached out to the governor's press office Monday for a response to the backlash and they sent the following statement.

"We continue working with federal, state, and local officials to provide all available resources to catch and arrest the Cleveland mass shooter, including a combined $80,000 in rewards from state, local, and federal agencies for information.

Any loss of life is a tragedy, and our hearts go out to the families who have lost a loved one. Following the horrific shooting on Friday night, federal officials provided the state of Texas information on the criminal and the victims, including that they were in the country illegally. We've since learned that at least one of the victims may have been in the United States legally. We regret if the information was incorrect and detracted from the important goal of finding and arresting the criminal. The true focus remains on catching this heinous criminal who killed five innocent people and bringing the full weight of Texas law against him. For those with any information, please call the Texas Crime Stoppers Hotline at (800) 252-TIPS (800-252-8477)."

The victim Abbott was apparently referring to is Diana Velásquez who was reportedly a legal resident. 

A GoFundMe has been set up for the victims. 

Editor's note: There have been discrepancies in the spelling and ages of the victims. We are using names and ages supplied to us by the Honduran government. Previous reporting used spelling and ages supplied earlier in the investigation by the Houston office of the FBI.

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