A Texas inmate who escaped from a prison bus last month died in a shootout with law enforcement officers Thursday night, hours after he is suspected of killing an adult and four minors at their weekend home, authorities said.
Last month, 46-year-old Gonzalo Artemio Lopez, who was serving a life sentence for a 2005 capital murder and a 2004 attempted capital murder, escaped from custody in Leon County, between Dallas and Houston. As Lopez was being transported to a medical appointment on May 12, authorities said he broke out of his restraints, stabbed the bus driver and ultimately drove off with the bus. He escaped after crashing in a cow pasture.
For weeks, law enforcement officials searched the area to no avail. Then, on Thursday, authorities discovered the bodies of an adult and four minors at a residence along Highway 7 in Leon County, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. A white 1999 Chevy Silverado was missing from the residence, and officials said they believed Lopez had killed the residents and fled the area in the truck.
Hours after the discovery, law enforcement officers spotted Lopez in the truck about 260 miles away in Atascosa County, south of San Antonio. After a chase of the vehicle, Lopez crashed, exited the truck and shot at the officers, TDCJ authorities said. He was killed when they returned fire, according to officials.
Lopez was armed with an AR-15 rifle and a handgun, according to the TDCJ.
TDCJ Chief of Staff Jason Clark told reporters Thursday night that “we are breathing a sigh of relief that Lopez will not be able to hurt anyone else.”
Authorities have not released the names or ages of the victims or said how they were killed. Clark said they were from the Houston area and had just arrived Thursday at the residence, which he described as a weekend home.
Officers had been combing the area for Lopez since he escaped, Clark said, and had “cleared” the home “multiple times” before finding the victims’ bodies there on Thursday around 6 p.m., leading authorities to believe that Lopez had entered the residence “recently.” There is no indication that Lopez and the victims knew each other, Clark said.
While he was on the run, Lopez was able to “stay within the woods, get into a residence to get water and food and possibly change his clothing,” Clark said.
He added at a separate briefing that it was unclear whether Lopez was already at the home where he allegedly killed the five victims or was “casing the structure and just waiting for someone to come in.”
It is likely the guns Lopez wielded during the shootout were from the residence, Clark said.
In 2006, Lopez was convicted of capital murder after kidnapping a man over a drug debt and killing him with a pickax, The Washington Post reported. He had also been convicted of attempted capital murder for firing gunshots at a sheriff’s deputy in Webb County in 2004. Lopez was serving a life sentence and was not eligible for parole until April 2045.
On May 12, while on a transport bus traveling 160 miles between Gatesville to Huntsville, Lopez somehow broke free from his restraints, cut his way into a metal cage-like area where the driver was located and stabbed the driver, according to the TDCJ. After driving off in the bus for a short distance, Lopez crashed in the cow pasture and ran away. The bus driver’s injuries were not life-threatening.
A sprawling manhunt involving around 300 law enforcement officers ensued, and a $50,000 reward was offered for information leading to Lopez’s capture. The search the TDCJ described as “exhaustive” turned up nothing until Thursday, when the bodies were found. Hours later, law enforcement officers spotted Lopez driving the white Silverado in Jourdanton, Tex.
On Thursday night, officers in Jourdanton started trailing Lopez in the pickup and spiked its tires, Clark said. After a short chase in a residential area, Clark said, Lopez crashed into a tree, got out of the truck and eventually fired “several rounds” at the officers.
“And those officers very swiftly shot and killed Lopez, bringing this whole ordeal to an end,” Clark said, adding that none of the officers were injured. Clark said the TDCJ was notified that Lopez had been killed around 10:30 p.m.
Asked by a reporter whether the TDCJ had failed the five dead victims, Clark said the agency will conduct “a serious incident review to determine how exactly this escape took place.”
“Any time you have something serious like this, 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 added. “And so that’s something that we absolutely will be doing.”
Timothy Bella contributed to this report.