DALLAS — The escaped Texas inmate on the run for three weeks was killed in a shootout Thursday after he killed an adult and four children at a home, officials said.
Gonzalo Lopez, 46, had no connection to the family that was found dead in Leon County in east Texas, 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 in the hand and escaped on foot in rural Texas, officials said.
He took a truck from that home, which is about halfway between Dallas and Houston, and law enforcement in Atascosa County, south of San Antonio, spotted it and started following, Clark said.
After the tires were spiked and a short chase, Lopez crashed into a tree. He got out with a gun and shot at officers who fired back and killed Lopez, Clark said.
It was not immediately clear what department the officers who killed Lopez were from, he said. No officers were injured.
Lopez had an AR-15 and a pistol, Clark said, though it was not immediately clear where the firearms came from and which was used in the shootout.
The shootout happened around 10:30 p.m. in the city of Jourdanton, about 250 miles southwest of Leon County, where Lopez escaped last month after stabbing a prison bus driver.
Officials searching for Lopez received a call from a person who had not heard from relatives, and when officers went to the home on Thursday they discovered the bodies, Clark said.
“This is a tragedy that you had five individuals who lost their lives,” Clark said. “I am thankful that tonight Gonzalo Lopez is unable to harm anyone else.”
The family is thought to have arrived Thursday to the house, which was being used as their vacation property, and were slain later in the afternoon, Clark said.
The home on Texas Highway 7, about a quarter mile west of Interstate 45, was inside the perimeter where law enforcement have been searching for Lopez and had been checked and cleared “multiple times,” he said.
He could not say whether authorities had spoken directly with the family, who were from Houston. Their identities have not been released.
The TDCJ initially said the dead included two adults and three children, but in a later update said one adult and four minors were killed.
More than 300 law enforcement officers — on foot and horseback and with dogs and helicopters — had searched for him in the area of ranches and farms in Leon County after he escaped last month.
After nine days of searching, the manhunt entered an “expanded phase” after Lopez could not be found. But law enforcement maintained a presence in the area because there was no evidence that he had left, Clark said Thursday.
Lopez was serving life in prison for convictions of capital murder and attempted capital murder.
Lopez, who authorities have said has a history with gangs in Mexico and the U.S., was convicted of kidnapping a man in 2005 and killing him with a pick axe after he failed to pay a ransom, officials said.
He was also convicted in 2007 of attempted capital murder, stemming from a 2004 incident in which the driver of a car he was in shot at a Webb County sheriff’s deputy during a chase, according to court records. Lopez got away on foot.
In the May 12 escape, Lopez was on a bus with other inmates and being driven from a prison in Gatesville to Huntsville for a medical appointment, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has said.
Lopez freed himself 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 highway west of Centerville, the department said.
During the struggle, the driver and Lopez left the bus. A second officer in the back got out through a rear door and confronted Lopez. Lopez got back in the bus and started driving, according to the department.
The officers shot the rear tire and the bus went off the highway a short distance away. Lopez got out and ran across a pasture to a wooded area, the agency has said.
A reward for information leading to his arrest grew to $50,000.
Clark said the department would conduct a serious incident review to determine how Lopez was able to escape.
“We will uncover how he did it and make any adjustments that are necessary,” he said.
Lopez was in a separate caged area for high-security inmates. The other inmates on the bus remained in their restraints, officials said.
Aside from the bus driver who was stabbed, no one else was injured.
Lopez was able to elude law enforcement before — after the 2004 pursuit in Webb County, on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Following an arrest in 2005 on unrelated charges, Lopez wrote in a statement that he ran into the brush and walked for hours before calling someone for help and being picked up, according to court documents.
He was eventually moved to Mexico by the Mexican Mafia to wait for things to calm down in Texas, he said in the statement.