Gonzalo Lopez, 46, reportedly got out of his restraints and cut through the metal cage of a prison bus on May 12, 2022.
CENTERVILLE, Texas -- "They were an amazing family." That's how Senior Pastor Steve Bezner described the five members of the Collins family murdered on their family ranch on Tuesday.
Pastor Bezner and close family friends gathered at Houston Northwest Church this afternoon to talk about the devastating loss of Mark Collins, 66, and his four grandsons at the hand of escaped inmate Gonzalo Lopez.
Brothers Carson, 16, Hudson, 11, and Waylon Collins, 18, and their cousin Bryson, 11, were all killed. Waylon had just graduated from Tomball High School a few days ago.
"They were bright, shining stars," said Harris Co. Sheriff's Detective David Crain, a close family friend. "What happened to the Collins family is unspeakable."
In a statement released Friday, Tomball ISD Superintendent Dr. Martha Salazar-Zamora confirmed four of her students and their grandfather were "taken from us on Thursday by the escaped Texas fugitive near Centerville."
"The loss of a student, for any reason, is heartbreaking, but to lose in such a tragic way is excruciating," Salazar-Zamora wrote in part. "There are no words. During this difficult time, the Tomball community is continuing to pull together following the tragic loss of four students."
On Friday afternoon, hundreds of people touched by the Collins family deaths gathered at Tomball ISD's baseball diamond for a vigil. There were tears, prayers, and lots of hugs.
The league confirmed that the oldest child, Waylon, was a Tomball Little League baseball umpire.
Texas Rangers investigators are trying to make sense of how escaped Texas inmate Gonzalo Lopez was able to slip past an intense three-week search.
It was learned on Friday that Lopez broke into the home next door to the family's ranch, sources tell ABC13.
Lopez managed to elude hundreds of searchers from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice since his escape from a cage and restraints as he was being transported on a bus to a doctor's appointment on May 12. The department set up a perimeter in Leon County near Centerville. The search was pared back as the days dragged on and Lopez was believed to have left the area. A break-in earlier this week revealed that wasn't the case.
According to ABC13 sources, authorities lifted fingerprints at a house along Highway 7 west I-45 that matched Lopez's. Camouflage clothing and food was missing from the fridge. ABC13 was granted access to the property. It is adjacent to the ranch where Mark Collins and his four grandsons, brothers, Waylon, Carson and Hudson and their cousin, Bryson were killed.
"I don't know if they were ever made aware of that. I do feel that had Mark been made aware that he was within a day or two of being on his property, he would have never exposed those kids to that danger," said family friend David Crain.
While the escape and search early on was widely known, residents tell ABC13 no alert was shared or advice given this week to remain vigilant or stay out of the area. They believe more could have been done.
"We have to go back to the drawing board. At the end of the day, we will do an incident review," said Jason Clark, TDCJ Chief of Staff.
The five were killed on Thursday afternoon when they went to the family ranch for summer vacation. Jason Clark, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, says the family had no link to Lopez.
Prison officials say Lopez escaped from a transport bus in Leon County on May 12. Leon County is midway between Houston and Dallas.
After the Collins family murders, investigators tracked Lopez down late Thursday night in Atascosa County, which is south of San Antonio and more than 250 miles from where he escaped.
Lopez, a 46-year-old convicted murderer serving a life sentence, died after law enforcement spotted a truck with a license plate matching the one belonging to the slain family.
There was a short chase where officers deployed spike strips, sources said.
"He went down there and struck a telephone pole. Bounced off and went down and crashed into a telephone pole and a fence. He exited his truck, fired additional rounds, at least four officers returned fire," Atascosa County Sheriff David Soward said, adding no officers were injured.
Clark said that Lopez was armed with an AR-15-style rifle and a pistol that authorities say may have been taken from the family's rural cabin.
Just as investigators were about to look for Lopez in other parts of the state, they learned that a concerned family member of the victims called police for a welfare check, leading them to discover their bodies.
The family's white Chevrolet Silverado was gone, prompting the chain of events Thursday night.
Officials believe over the last three weeks, Lopez hid in the woods and managed to go into residential homes for water, food, and changes of clothes.
Because of the escape and the danger he posed, Lopez was among Texas' top 10 most wanted fugitives, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
On May 12, officials said Lopez was being taken from the Hughes Unit in Gatesville, Texas, to the Estelle Unit in Huntsville for a medical appointment when he escaped.
The TDCJ, which oversees the state's prisons, said due to his criminal history and restrictive housing status, Lopez was being transported in a separate, caged area of the bus, designed for high-risk inmates.
During the transport, Lopez reportedly got out of his restraints, cut through the expanded metal and crawled out of the bottom of the cage.
That's when law enforcement officials say he attacked the bus driver.
The officer reportedly stopped the bus and engaged in an altercation with Lopez. The two of them eventually exited the bus.
Officials said a second officer exited the rear door of the bus and tried to approach Lopez.
However, Lopez reportedly reentered the bus and began driving away.
The two officers fired shots at the inmate, which ultimately disabled the bus when a bullet struck a rear tire.
The bus then traveled a short distance and left the roadway before Lopez got out and ran into the woods off Highway 7 in Leon County, officials 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.
In 1996, Lopez was convicted of two counts of aggravated assault and received two eight-year sentences. In 2006, he was convicted of capital murder and aggravated kidnapping in Hidalgo County, which borders Mexico in the southern portion of Texas, and was sentenced to life in prison, according to the TDCJ.
Additionally, he received a second life sentence after he was convicted of attempted capital murder in Webb County, another border county that contains Laredo, Texas, in 2007.
Officials said Lopez was affiliated with the Mexican Mafia and had ties to the Rio Grande Valley and San Antonio.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.