An escaped Texas inmate who has been on the run for three weeks is suspected in the deaths of two adults and three children at a home Thursday, officials said.
Gonzalo Lopez had no connection to the family that was killed in Leon County, said Jason Clark, chief of staff for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Their identities have not been released.
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.
Lopez may be armed and driving a white 1999 Chevrolet Silverado with damage to the driver’s side that was taken from the home in east Texas, about halfway between Dallas and Houston, Clark said.
Officials searching for Lopez received a call from a person who had not heard from relatives, and when officers responded to the home, they found the bodies, Clark said.
The home off Texas Highway 7 was inside the perimeter where law enforcement have been searching for Lopez and had been checked and cleared “multiple times,” Clark said.
He could not say whether authorities had spoken directly with the family, who were from Houston.
Lopez, 46, 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.
More than 300 law enforcement officers — on foot and horseback and with dogs and helicopters — have searched for him in the area of ranches and farms in Leon County.
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 may have changed clothes, but officials did not have an updated description Thursday on what he could be wearing.
Clark encouraged Lopez to turn himself in.
“Lopez is a person that does not care. He is an individual that has obviously killed and just killed,” Clark said. “Law enforcement will take all the precautions necessary to bring him into custody and bring him to justice.”
Lopez is 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, where he was serving his sentence, 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.
TDCJ spokesperson Robert Hurst said May 18 that investigators were still trying to determine what item was used to cut through the metal and reach the driver.
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, Hurst said.
Lopez has been 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.