A convicted murderer on the run sincelast month was fatally shot by law enforcement after he killed a family of five and stole a truck from a rural weekend cabin, a Texas prison system spokesman said. The slain family members included four children, officials said.
Gonzalo Lopez, 46, died in a shootout with police late Thursday in Jourdanton, about 35 miles south of San Antonio, after driving the pickup more than 200 miles from the cabin, said Jason Clark, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Lopez had an AR-15-style rifle and a pistol that authorities say may have been taken from the cabin, Clark said.
Authorities in Atascosa County - about 220 miles southwest of the cabin - recognized the stolen pickup from an alert sent out hours earlier by law enforcement and stopped it with spike strips, Clark said. Lopez then crashed the truck into a tree in a residential area and ran.
"Those officers very swiftly shot and killed Lopez bringing this whole ordeal to an end," Clark said.
The search for Lopez, who escaped while being transported in a caged area of a prison bus, heightened Thursday when someone called police because they were concerned they had not heard from an elderly relative.
That led officers to a rural cabin near Centerville in Leon County, in the same area where Lopez had escaped the bus. The names of the five people found dead inside the cabin were not immediately released by authorities.
The Tomball school district in suburban Houston said Friday that the four children were students in its district and the adult was their grandfather.
"There are no words. During this difficult time, the Tomball community is continuing to pull together following the tragic loss of four students," said school district Superintendent Martha Salazar-Zamora.
The victims were thought to have arrived Thursday morning at the cabin, which they owned, Clark said. The five are believed to have been killed Thursday afternoon and had no link to Lopez, he said. Authorities don't yet know whether Lopez had been staying in the cabin or if he ambushed them upon their arrival, Clark said.
"We are very saddened that the murders happened but I will tell you that we are breathing a sigh of relief that Lopez will not be able to hurt anybody else," Clark said late Thursday.
Lopez had been the subject of an intensive search since his May 12 escape from the prison bus. He was being transported from a prison in Gatesville, more than 100 miles west of the place where he escaped, to one in Huntsville for a medical appointment when he escaped in Leon County, a rural area between Dallas and Houston, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has said.
The department has said Lopez somehow, cut through the expanded metal of the cage and crawled from the bottom. He then attacked the driver, who stopped the bus and got into an altercation with Lopez, and they both eventually got off the bus.
A second officer at the rear of the bus then exited and approached Lopez, who got back on the bus and started driving down the road, the department said.
The officers fired at Lopez and disabled the bus by shooting the rear tire, the department said. The bus then traveled a short distance before leaving the roadway, where Lopez got out and ran into the woods. At some point during the escape, Lopez stabbed the driver, whose wounds weren't life-threatening, the department said.
Clark said "a serious incident review" will be conducted into the escape.
"It's incumbent upon us to go backwards to figure out how did he escape, how did he beat our security protocols in order to leave that transport vehicle," Clark said.
Lopez was serving a life prison sentence for a 2006 conviction of murdering a man along the Texas-Mexico border.
The U.S. Marshals Service released photos showing Lopez's tattoos last week, and announced that a combined reward of up to $50,000 was being offered for information leading to his capture.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Robert Hurst said. "He's done this before down in South Texas in Webb County — he hid out for almost nine days."
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