The Texas family killed by an escaped inmate was identified as a 66-year-old man and his four grandchildren, authorities said.
During a news conference Friday, Crime Stoppers of Houston identified the victims as Mark Collins, 66; Waylon Collins, 18; Carson Collins, 16; Hudson Collins, 11; and Bryson Collins, 11.
Andy Kahan, director of victims services for the group, read a statement from relatives saying they were “devastated by the loss of our dear family members.”
“These precious people who loved and were loved by so many will never be forgotten,” the statement said. “The impact on their family and friends cannot be overstated.”
Kahan, who said he had been working with families of homicide victims for 34 years, added: “Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t. This is absolutely one of the most gut wrenching scenarios I’ve dealt with and I’ve seem a lot and been through a lot.”
The family had been at their ranch in Centerville — a place they often went during the summer to hunt and fish — when they were killed, said David Crain, a longtime family friend.
They were described as close-knit and well-known in the community. The children attended schools in the Tomball Independent School District, a spokesperson said.
“The loss of a student, for any reason, is heartbreaking, but to lose four in such a tragic way is excruciating, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of those beloved students and grandfather,” the district said in a letter to the school community.
Martha Salazar-Zamora, the district superintendent of schools, said in a statement that “there are no words” to describe the tragedy.
Authorities said the suspect, Gonzalo Lopez, 46, had no connection to the family. He was killed Thursday during a shootout with police after law enforcement south of San Antonio spotted a truck that had been stolen from the family’s property in Leon County.
Jason Clark, chief of staff for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said he believes the family arrived Thursday at the Leon County property and were killed that afternoon. The cause of death has not been released.
Officials searching for Lopez were sent to the home after a person called and said they had not heard from their relatives. There, they found the five family members dead and learned the truck had been taken from the home.
The home was inside the perimeter where law enforcement had been searching for Lopez, a convicted murderer who escaped on May 12 after stabbing a prison bus driver in the hand and fleeing on foot after the vehicle went off the road.
Law enforcement later spotted the truck south of San Antonio. After a short chase, Lopez crashed into a tree and began firing at officers. Police returned fire, killing him. No officers were injured.
Crain said that Mark Collins was aware of Lopez’s escape in the area and had been in touch with law enforcement before traveling to the family ranch.
Authorities “had cleared that house multiple times,” Crain said.
The Leon County Sheriff’s Office could not immediately be reached for comment.
Lopez, who authorities have said has a history with gangs in Mexico and the U.S., was on a bus with other inmates being driven from a prison in Gatesville to Huntsville for a medical appointment when he escaped.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said Lopez freed himself of his restraints, cut through a piece of metal in a barrier that separated the driver and crawled under the cage to attack the driver on a highway west of Centerville.
The driver and Lopez left the bus during the struggle, the department said. A second officer in the back exited through a rear door and confronted Lopez. Lopez got back in the bus and tried to drive away but the officers shot the rear tire causing the bus to go off the highway.
The department said Lopez got out and ran toward a wooded area. Officials said Lopez was being transported in a separate caged area for high-security inmates. No other injuries were reported and all of the other inmates on the bus remained in their restraints.