A convicted murderer who escaped last month from a prisoner bus in Texas was killed in a shootout with officers late Thursday, just hours after he was named the prime suspect in the killing of four children and an adult in a home in Leon County, officials said.
Gonzalo Lopez fled the home in a truck later disabled with a spike strip in the town of Jourdanton, Jason Clark with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said in a news conference Thursday night.
Lopez crashed the vehicle and then engaged in a firefight with officers, he said.
“He fired several rounds at officers and was armed with an AR-15 and a pistol,” Clark said, adding they believe the firearms were likely stolen from the home in Centerville where the family was killed. No officers were injured.
The victims were identified as four students of the Tomball Independent School District and their grandfather, according to a letter sent to the district community by Martha Salazar-Zamora, the superintendent.
“The loss of a student, for any reason, is heartbreaking, but to lose four in such a tragic way is excruciating,” the letter said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of these beloved students and grandfather.”
The district has arranged for grief counseling for any student who may need it, the letter added.
The victims were identified as Mark Collins, 66, along with four of his seven grandchildren: brothers Waylon, 18, Carson, 16, and Hudson, 11, and their cousin, Bryson Collins, 11, according to a family statement which was provided to CNN by the grandfather’s brother-in-law, David Scarbrough.
The family was “close-knit and of deep faith,” family pastor Steve Bezner said during a news conference Friday. Services for the family have not been announced.
Lopez was serving 2 life sentences
Lopez had been convicted of capital murder, attempted capital murder and aggravated kidnapping, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. He was serving two life sentences for those convictions.
His escape May 12 near Centerville, about 120 miles north of Houston, sparked one of the largest search efforts for an escaped inmate in Texas history, according to officials.
Lopez was on the state’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List, and authorities offered up to $50,000 for information leading to his capture.
“He’s got a life sentence for a capital murder, where he killed a man with a pickax, and he’s also gotten an attempted capital murder conviction for shooting a gun at a police officer,” Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesperson Robert Hurst said during a news conference at the time, warning Lopez was “very dangerous.”
Lopez was affiliated with the Mexican Mafia and had ties to the Rio Grande Valley area – including Weslaco and Mercedes – and San Antonio, the state’s public safety department said.
Family was visiting weekend home
Earlier on Thursday, officials said a family had been found dead in their rural home and Lopez was the suspect.
“Lopez is obviously a killer. He has a disregard for human life,” Clark said.
The family was using the home in Leon County as a “weekend residence,” Clark said. Investigators believe the family had no connection to Lopez, who allegedly broke into the home and stole a vehicle Clark described as a “farm truck.”
The home was within the perimeter police were searching following Lopez’s escape, which happened as he was being taken from a facility in Gatesville to another unit in Huntsville for a medical appointment.
Huntsville is around 70 miles north of Houston.
He was being driven in a separate, caged area of the prison bus but broke out of his restraints, cut through the metal and crawled out of the bottom of the cage, officials said.
Lopez attacked the driver and forced the bus to a stop, authorities said. The two got out of the vehicle, and as another officer began approaching, Lopez went back into the bus and tried to drive it away, but the officers shot at the tires and stopped the vehicle, authorities said.
Lopez left the bus and ran into the woods off of Highway 7 in Leon County, according to authorities.
CNN’s Raja Razek, Chuck Johnston, Rebekah Riess, Caroll Alvarado, Sharif Paget and Hannah Sarisohn contributed to this report.