Centerville residents have become more vigilant in the past three weeks as authorities searched for a killer who killed on behalf of Mexican drug cartels and who stabbed and wounded a prison bus driver last month as he escaped from custody near their small Texas town.

Search Gonzalo Lopez, 46 years, ended Thursday night with a shootout about 220 miles. He led officers in a brief chase on a stolen truck before being killed.

Authorities believe that while Lopez was roaming free, he killed a man and four of his grandchildren, then stole an AR-15 rifle and pistol from their ranch near Centerville, as well as a truck he was driving to Athos County, on south of San Antonio, where he was fatally shot by officers.

At around 6pm on Thursday, authorities went to a house near Centerville for a welfare check and found five bodies. In a statement, their family identified the victims as 66-year-old Mark Collins and four of his grandchildren: Whelan Collins, 18; Carson Collins, 16; Hudson Collins, 11; and Bryson Collins, 11. Whelan, Carson, and Hudson were brothers, and Bryson was their cousin.

This undated photo, taken by the family through Houston’s Northwest Church, shows Carson Collins, Hudson Collins and Whelan Collins from left to right, who authorities believe were killed by 46-year-old Gonzalo Lopez, convicted of murder. from prison.

/ AP

“These precious people who loved and were loved so much will never be forgotten,” the Collins family said in a statement. Steve Bezner, the family’s pastor, described the family from the Houston area as “the greatest character, the deepest faith and unshakable kindness and love.”

“This is something you can’t imagine in such a small community,” said 61-year-old Toffee Loftin, a pastor in Centerville who knew the family.

Loftin, pastor of Leon County Cowboy Church, said he went to the family ranch, which also has a “beautiful fishing lake and pier” to help with the animals. He called them “good, salt people of the earth.”

The Tomball County School in the Houston suburbs said Friday that the grandchildren were students in the area.

Tomball High School student Madeline McFarland said she knew Waylan Collins.

“He was the type of guy who was friends with everyone,” McFarland said told KHOU-TV. “Everyone knew him. He was a sweet soul. “

Whelan was also a referee in the Tomball Little League, which observed a minute of silence in his honor, featuring the referee’s shirt in the frame and the type of baseball cap that Whelan often wore.

Authorities believe Lopez clashed with his family on Thursday. The Leon County Sheriff’s Office did not specify how they were killed.

Centerville residents have been worried since May 12, when Lopez defeated the officer who drove him and 15 other inmates near their community between Dallas and Houston. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is still figuring out how Lopez broke free from his restraints and fled the cell the bus where he was being held.

After his escape, law enforcement officers vigorously patrolled Highway 7 and other roads in Centralville, escorting many of the city’s nearly 1,000 residents to their homes to make them feel safe.

Gene Davis, 70, who owns a store selling fodder and mineral fertilizers in the eastern part of the city, said her husband wanted her to bring a rifle and a pistol, but she refused.

“The city was really in a state, especially in those first 10 days when it went missing and no one knew where it was,” said Davis, who lives about 15 miles (24 kilometers) in Buffalo.

State soldiers, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the U.S. Marshals Service, and deputy sheriffs from Leon County, which includes Centerville, have been searching unsuccessfully in the Lopez area for weeks.

Concerns about his whereabouts were justified: Lopez’s long criminal history included death sentences, attempted murder, kidnapping and aggravated assault. Authorities said he belonged to the Mexican mafia, which is a prison gang, and was a conspiratorial killer in at least two drug cartels.

In confession to authorities, Lopez said he was heading to Laredo to kill the owner of a restaurant and bar for the Mileno drug cartel of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, in 2004 when he got involved in a shootout with lawmakers who tried to stop him. vehicle.

Lopez fled to Mexico with the help of the Mexican mafia.

“He’s cunning,” Lopez was told last week by Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Robert Hearst.

In March 2005, Lopez said he had a contract with the La Mana drug cartel in Tamaulipas, Mexico, to kidnap a man named Lupe Ramirez from Veslak, South Texas, because he owed the cartel $ 40,000, according to court records.

According to court records, Lopez and another man abducted Ramirez and left him “tied up in my mom’s house” when they went to pick up the money and marijuana that Ramirez’s family had left for them. Lopez later beat Ramirez’s head with a pickaxe and buried his body in the desert.

Lopez was serving a life sentence for the death penalty for Ramirez’s death and a life sentence for attempted murder for a shootout with deputies in 2004 when he escaped from a prison bus.

Authorities supported nearly 40 traveling patrols, suggesting he remained in the Centerville area, possibly entering unoccupied facilities in search of food, water and clothing, said Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

At a news conference Friday afternoon, Andy Kahan, director of the Houston Crime Stoppers Victim and Propaganda Service, called the family murder “absolutely one of the worst scenarios I’ve dealt with, and I’ve seen a lot and experienced a lot.” ».

Authorities say Lopez took several firearms from the home, as well as a family white Chevy truck, and fled. Law enforcement officers spotted him shortly before 10pm in Atascos County.

Giurdanton police used spikes to flatten the truck’s tires, but Lopez continued to drive, firing a rifle through the truck’s window before hitting two telephone poles and a fence, Atascos County Sheriff David Soward said.

Lopez “came out of a stolen pickup truck, armed with a rifle and a pistol, and reportedly fired on officers,” Howard said. Four officers opened fire in retaliation, killing Lopez.

Escape of a Texas prisoner
This undated photo, provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, shows a white Chevy pickup truck reportedly taken from the family of escaped prisoner Gonzalo Lopez.

/ AP

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