Gonzalo Lopez, Escaped Texas Killer, Dies in Shootout With Police
One of the most dramatic manhunts in Texas history ended late Thursday when a convicted murderer who had escaped from a prison bus last month was killed in a shootout with the police, hours after he became the prime suspect in the killing of five people at a home, the authorities said.
The convict, Gonzalo Artemio Lopez, had been the suspect in the murders of five members of the same family whose bodies were discovered on Thursday at a home on the family’s ranch in Leon County, near where he had escaped in May. The authorities said he had taken a vehicle from the home, a white Chevrolet Silverado, to drive out of the area.
Late Friday, the authorities identified the victims as Mark Collins, 66, and four grandchildren: brothers Waylon Collins, 18, Carson Collins, 16, and Hudson Collins, 11; and their cousin Bryson Collins, 11. The Tomball Independent School District said in a letter to students and families on Friday that four of its students were killed in the attack.
During a news conference, the family’s pastor along with a family friend described the victims as part of a family of deep faith and “unrelenting kindness.” The children loved to fish and play baseball and football. They looked forward to their visits to the family’s ranch, described as “a kid’s dream,” filled with big ponds and teeming with deer.
The home was a weekend residence used by the family, which is from Houston, and had been repeatedly searched since the escape, according to law enforcement officials.
“What has happened to the Collins family is just unspeakable,” said David Crain, a longtime family friend, fighting back tears at the news conference. “Those kids were bright, shining stars.”
He added, “The whole community here has suffered a loss that’s going to be unfillable.”
Investigators believe that Mr. Lopez entered the ranch home sometime Thursday and “gained access to several firearms on the property,” according to a statement from the sheriff’s office Friday afternoon. They believe Mr. Lopez attacked the grandfather first.
Late on Thursday night, police officers in Jourdanton, Texas, spotted Mr. Lopez, 46, driving the missing vehicle and disabled it by putting spike strips on the road, Jason Clark, the chief of staff at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, told reporters. Jourdanton is south of San Antonio and more than 200 miles southwest of the area where Mr. Lopez had escaped.
After a short chase, Mr. Lopez crashed the vehicle into a tree and began shooting at the officers, who returned fire and ultimately killed him, Mr. Clark said. Mr. Lopez, who was armed with an AR-15 rifle and a pistol, fired several rounds at the officers but none of them were struck, he added.
At a news conference on Thursday night, Sheriff David Soward of Atascosa County, where the shooting took place, said that at least four officers returned fire at Mr. Lopez.
“I will tell you that we are breathing a sigh of relief that Lopez will not be able to hurt anyone else,” Mr. Clark said. He added that it was likely the weapons that Mr. Lopez used were from the residence where the bodies were found.
In a statement on Friday, Dr. Martha Salazar-Zamora, the superintendent of Tomball Independent School District said, “There are no words.”
The district, which serves about 20,000 students, provided grief counselors on Friday. “During this difficult time, the Tomball community is continuing to pull together following the tragic loss,’’ she added.
When Mr. Lopez escaped from a prison bus on May 12, he had been serving sentences for crimes that included killing a man with a pickax. After his escape, he topped the state’s most wanted list, and by the time he was killed, the authorities were offering $50,000 in exchange for information leading to his arrest and conviction.
The bus Mr. Lopez escaped from last month had been transporting him and 15 other inmates to a medical appointment. As it approached Centerville, a city about halfway between Houston and Dallas on Interstate 45, he broke free of his shackles, attacked the driver and drove the bus for a mile before losing control and escaping into a cow pasture.
Hundreds of agents from local and national law enforcement groups participated in a manhunt using horses, police dogs and helicopters.
“This is probably one of the largest, if not the largest, manhunts in recent history for an escaped inmate from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice,” Robert Hurst, a public information officer for the department, said days after the escape. He said that Mr. Lopez was a “very dangerous person.”
The killings of the five people most likely occurred on Thursday afternoon and the home was within a perimeter where law enforcement officials had been searching for Mr. Lopez since his escape, Mr. Clark told reporters at a news conference.
Mr. Clark said that the authorities had evidence that Mr. Lopez had broken into the home and committed the murders, but he did not provide details or say how the victims had been killed.
Mr. Lopez escaped while he was being driven from a prison in Gatesville, Texas, to a medical appointment in the city of Huntsville, the authorities said.
After Mr. Lopez broke into the driver’s compartment, the driver stopped the bus and Mr. Lopez stabbed him in the left hand and chest, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Another officer on the bus shot out the two back tires. Then Mr. Lopez returned to the bus and managed to drive it for a mile before losing control. When the bus came to a stop, Mr. Lopez ran into a wooded area, where he disappeared.
In addition to his murder conviction, Mr. Lopez had eight other convictions since 1994, including attempted capital murder, kidnapping and three separate counts of aggravated assault.
The police suspected all along that Mr. Lopez had not gone very far, in part because they had no evidence to suggest otherwise, Mr. Clark said. “It wasn’t until this afternoon that it became clear that he remained in this area,” he said.
He said that the authorities planned to conduct a “serious incident review” to determine how Mr. Lopez had been able to beat the state’s security protocols.
“We will uncover how he did it,” Mr. Clark, “and then make any adjustments that are necessary.”
Johnny Diaz and Vimal Patel contributed reporting.