One of the most dramatic manhunts in Texas history ended late Thursday when a convicted killer who escaped from a prison bus last month was killed in a shootout with police hours after becoming the prime suspect in the killing of five people in one The authorities said it had become a house.
The convict, Gonzalo Artemio Lopez, was the prime suspect in the murder of four children and one adult, whose bodies were discovered Thursday at a house near where he fled in May. Authorities said he took a vehicle from the home, a white Chevrolet Silverado, to leave the area.
Late Thursday evening, police officers in Jourdanton, Texas, spotted Mr. Lopez, 46, driving the missing vehicle and disabled it by placing barbed strips on the road, Texas Justice Department chief of staff Jason Clark told reporters. Jourdanton is south of San Antonio and more than 200 miles southwest of the area Mr. Lopez fled.
After a brief chase, Mr. Lopez crashed the vehicle into a tree and began firing at officers, who returned fire, eventually killing him, Mr. Clark said. Mr. Lopez, who was armed with an AR-15 rifle and a handgun, fired multiple shots at the officers but none of them were hit, he added.
“I’ll tell you that we’re relieved that Lopez can no longer hurt anyone,” Mr. Clark said.
When Mr. Lopez escaped from a prison bus on May 12, he was serving a sentence for crimes including killing a man with a pickaxe. After his escape, he topped the state’s most wanted list, and when he was killed, authorities offered $50,000 in exchange for information that led to his arrest and conviction.
The bus Mr Lopez escaped from last month had transported him and 15 other passengers to a doctor’s appointment. Approaching Centerville, a town about halfway between Houston and Dallas on Interstate 45, he disengaged from his restraints, attacked the driver and drove the bus for a mile before losing control and fleeing into a cow pasture .
Hundreds of agents from local and national law enforcement groups participated in a manhunt using horses, police dogs and helicopters.
“This is probably one of the largest, if not the largest, manhunt in recent history for an escaped Texas Department of Justice inmate,” Robert Hurst, a department public information officer, said days after the escape, adding Mr. Lopez was a “very dangerous person”.
The killings of the five people most likely occurred Thursday afternoon and the home was in a perimeter where law enforcement officials had been searching for Mr Lopez since he fled, Mr Clark told reporters at a news conference.
The house was a weekend residence for a Houston family and had been repeatedly searched since the escape, he said.
Mr Clark said authorities had evidence Mr Lopez broke into the home and committed the murders, but he gave no details or said how the victims were killed.
Recognition…Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Mr. Lopez escaped while being driven from a prison in Gatesville, Texas, to a doctor’s appointment in the city of Huntsville, authorities said.
After Mr. Lopez broke into the driver’s cab, the driver stopped the bus and Mr. Lopez stabbed him in the left hand and chest, according to the Texas Department of Justice. Another officer on the bus shot out the two rear tires. Mr. Lopez then returned to the bus and managed to drive it a mile before losing control. When the bus stopped, Mr. Lopez ran into a wooded area where he disappeared.
In addition to his murder conviction, Mr. Lopez has had eight other convictions since 1994, including attempted capital murder, kidnapping and three separate counts of aggravated assault.
Police all along suspected that Mr. Lopez hadn’t gone very far, partly because they had no evidence to suggest otherwise, Mr. Clark said. “It wasn’t until this afternoon that it became clear that he stayed in that area,” he said.
He said authorities planned to conduct a “major incident review” to determine how Mr. Lopez was able to circumvent the state’s security protocols.
“We’ll find out how he did it,” Mr. Clark, “and then make any necessary adjustments.”