DALLAS — The escaped Texas convict who had been on the run for three weeks was killed in a gun battle Thursday after killing an adult and four children in a home, officials said.
Gonzalo Lopez, 46, had no connection with the family found dead in eastern Texas’s Leon County, said Jason Clark, chief of staff for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
He has been missing since May 12, when he stabbed a prison bus driver and escaped on foot in rural Texas, officials said.
He took a truck out of that house, about halfway between Dallas and Houston, and police in Atascosa County, south of San Antonio, saw it and began tracking it, Clark said.
After the tires were spiked and a short chase, Lopez crashed into a tree. He got out with a gun and fired at officers who fired back and killed Lopez, Clark said.
It was not immediately clear from which department the agents who killed Lopez belonged, he said. No officers were injured.
Lopez had an AR-15 and a handgun, Clark said, although it wasn’t immediately clear where the firearms came from and which ones were used in the shooting.
The shooting happened around 10:30 p.m. in the town of Jourdanton, about 400 miles southwest of Leon County, where Lopez escaped last month after stabbing a bus driver.
Officials searching for Lopez received a call from a person who hadn’t heard from relatives, and when officers went to the house on Thursday, they discovered the bodies, Clark said.
“This is a tragedy that five people have died,” Clark said. “I’m thankful that Gonzalo Lopez can’t hurt anyone else tonight.”
The family allegedly arrived at the house, which was used as a vacation home, on Thursday and were murdered later in the afternoon, Clark said.
The house on Texas Highway 7, about a quarter of a mile west of Interstate 45, was within the perimeter where police searched for Lopez and had been checked and evacuated “several times,” he said.
He could not say whether the authorities had spoken directly to the family, who came from Houston. Their identities have not been released.
The TDCJ initially said the dead were two adults and three children, but in a later update, it said one adult and four minors were killed.
More than 300 law enforcement officers — on foot, horseback, dogs and helicopters — had searched for him near ranches and ranches in Leon County after he escaped last month.
After nine days of searching, the manhunt entered an “extensive phase” after Lopez could not be found. But police remained in the area because there was no evidence that he had left, Clark said Thursday.
Lopez was in prison for life on charges of capital murder and attempted capital murder.
Lopez, who authorities say has a history with gangs in Mexico and the US, was convicted of kidnapping a man in 2005 and killing him with a pickaxe after failing to pay a ransom, officials said.
He was also convicted of attempted murder in 2007, as a result of a 2004 incident in which the driver of a car he was driving was shot during a chase at a Webb County deputy sheriff, according to court records. Lopez got away on foot.
During the May 12 escape, Lopez was on a bus with other inmates and was driven from a Gatesville prison to Huntsville for a medical appointment, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has said.
Lopez broke free of his restraints, cut through a piece of metal in a barrier separating the driver and crawled under the cage to attack the driver on a freeway west of Centerville, the department said.
During the struggle, the driver and Lopez left the bus. A second cop in the back got out through a back door and confronted Lopez. Lopez got back on the bus and started driving, the department said.
The officers shot at the rear tire and the bus hit a short distance off the highway. Lopez got out and ran across a meadow to a wooded area, the agency said.
A reward for information leading to his arrest grew to $50,000.
Clark said the department would conduct a serious incident investigation to determine how Lopez escaped.
“We will find out how he did it and make the necessary adjustments,” he said.
Lopez was in a separate cage for high-security inmates. The other inmates on the bus remained in their shackles, officials said.
No one else was injured except for the bus driver who was stabbed.
Lopez was able to evade law enforcement before – after the 2004 car chase in Webb County, on the US-Mexico border.
After an arrest in 2005 on unrelated charges, Lopez wrote in a statement that according to court documents, he spent hours and hours in the bushes before calling someone for help and being arrested.
He was eventually moved to Mexico by the Mexican mafia to wait for things to settle down in Texas, he said in the statement.