By Gina Christian
As a small Texas community grapples with a mass shooting, a Catholic parish is turning to prayer and trust in God.
“God is with us amid evil,” Deacon Larry Terrell of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Cleveland, Texas, told OSV News May 1.
The small town, located some 45 miles northeast of Houston, was the scene of an April 28 execution-style murder of four adults and one child at a residence.
The victims were Sonia Argentina Guzman, 25; Diana Velazquez Alvarado, 21; Julisa Molina Rivera, 31; Jose Jonathan Casarez, 18; and Daniel Enrique Laso, 9. All were shot at point-blank range with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Two of the victims were found covering two unharmed children, according to San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers.
Neighbor Francisco Oropesa, 38, is believed to have targeted the victims, who lived next door, after they asked him to stop firing rounds in his backyard late that evening.
Oropesa was apprehended May 2 at a residence near the Texas town of Cut and Shoot, about 20 miles from the murder scene, following a manhunt including over 250 law enforcement officers from more than a dozen agencies and a combined reward of some $80,000. The Mexican national, who had been deported four times, has been charged with five counts of murder and is being held on $5 million bond.
St. Mary’s Masses April 29 and 30 were offered for the victims and their loved ones, who were not known to be parishioners, said Deacon Terrell.
A number of parishioners also attended an April 30 evening prayer vigil organized by the Cleveland Independent School District at Northside Elementary School, where Laso had been a student, added Deacon Terrell.
The tragedy followed an April 23 mass shooting north of Jasper, Texas, some 90 miles from Cleveland. In that incident, 11 teens ranging in age from 15 to 19 were wounded by gunfire at an after-prom party. Four teens were charged in the attack and in a second shooting that took place minutes later in downtown Jasper.
In an April 29 message posted on the Diocese of Beaumont’s Facebook page, Bishop David L. Toups said the Cleveland shooting was “another act of senseless gun violence” that had struck the diocese “for the second time in a week.”
“It saddens me for the communities of Jasper and Cleveland that they now have to heal the wounds of doubt and fear in the hearts of all of our citizens,” said Bishop Toups. “It should deeply upset all of our sensibilities that a thousand violent crimes occur every year in Beaumont alone.”
The bishop pointed to the “need to work together and pray as a community to build a civilization of peace and hope with greater respect for the sanctity of all life.”
“May we as a nation experience a conversion of heart respecting the rights and the dignity of all persons,” he said.
The first step in that conversion is trusting God, said Deacon Terrell, noting that Scripture repeatedly encourages the faithful not to fear.
“God is in control, and he will be with these families,” said the deacon. “God is for justice, and we’ll let God handle this. God is going to combat this gun violence in our country now. He is with us all the way to the end. … We have to keep (these families) in our prayers and pray for our country.”