CENTERVILLE — The three-week manhunt for escaped prisoner Gonzalo Lopez took center stage in Centerville as law enforcement from multiple agencies remained in the 905-person Leon County seat .
The ongoing search ended Thursday night with Lopez, a convicted murderer, killed south of San Antonio. That was not until a Houston-area grandfather and four of his grandchildren were murdered at the family ranch on Texas 7, about a mile west of Interstate 45 in Centerville on Thursday. afternoon. Investigators said Lopez was the suspect.
Richard Beham, who lives a few miles north of Centerville, said while he’s glad the manhunt is over, it ended in devastation and unanswered questions.
“I think there’s going to be a sense of relief, but I think they’re actually going to ask why and was he here the whole time because I think that’s what a lot of people are asking,” he said. said Beham. “Was he really under our noses all this time?
Preliminary findings from law enforcement point to Lopez as the person who killed the five people at the ranch, the Leon County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. On Friday afternoon, Crime Stoppers Houston identified the five as Mark Collins, 66, who was the grandfather; brothers Waylon Collins, 18, Carson Collins, 16, and Hudson Collins, 11; and their cousin, Bryson Collins, 11. The four boys were all Tomball students. Waylon Collins had just graduated and planned to attend Texas A&M this fall, according to the website of his pressure-washing business, which was set up to help him raise money for college.
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“We are devastated by the loss of our dear family members at the Centerville Family Ranch,” the Collins family said in a statement shared at a Friday press conference. “These precious people whom we loved and loved by so many will never be forgotten. The impact on their family and friends cannot be overstated.
Leon County Sheriff’s officials said a welfare check was conducted around 6 p.m. Thursday and five bodies were found after entering the home. Sheriff’s officials said investigators believe Lopez entered the home Thursday and had access to multiple firearms on the property before killing the five Collins family members.
Law enforcement vehicles were parked outside the Collins residence Friday afternoon. Yellow warning tape hung on ranch gate. An improvised memorial of balloons and flowers placed against a fence. Behind the wrought iron fence was a house framed by a row of wooded trees and a large pond.
“I don’t know how many acres he owns, but you can tell why his grandkids would want to come fishing and hang out on the lake,” Beham said.
Investigators said that after the murders, Lopez took Collins’ truck and drove off. He was spotted by the Atascosa County Sheriff’s Office in Jourdanton, about 40 miles south of San Antonio. Shots were exchanged between Lopez and law enforcement and he was killed around 10:30 p.m.
“Once I found that out and the truck was gone, I was like it was heading towards San Antonio. It’s heading towards the border,” Beham said. it was.”
Authorities say Lopez initially escaped from a prison bus on May 12 near Centerville while being transported from Gatesville to Huntsville. Lopez broke free from hand and leg restraints in a caged area. He attacked the bus driver then drove him a short distance before running him over and fleeing into the woods. He was not arrested until Thursday evening.
Doris Panzar lives on Texas 7 about 7 miles west of Centerville and works at Woody’s Smokehouse, a well-known gas station on I-45. She remembers being pulled over by law enforcement officials who had shut down the freeway on her way home from Bryan after a grocery run the day Lopez escaped.
“It took almost 45 minutes until someone said, ‘OK, you can go,'” Panzar said. “And then there was a constable standing in the street and I said to him, ‘I’m a little scared. He came with me to my house, he looked at the house, in each room, he went to the shed, so he was very nice. He said, ‘No, ma’am. Nobody is here. You can go to bed in peace’, but it was every time I came home, ‘Okay, where is he? Is he still there?
Texas 7 was shut down for more than a week during the initial search for Lopez centered in Leon County. Law enforcement officials reopened the highway on May 20 when they expanded the search for Lopez beyond Leon County. Panzar said every time she drove home during the highway closure, her car was searched by law enforcement. She was asked to show her driver’s license so they could verify that she lived in the blocked area.
“It was always a concern to see the DPS people sitting on both sides of the street and looking into the woods,” Panzar said. “If you drive down the street, you can see the [tall] grass. Everything is high, so I was always wondering what they see?
Law enforcement officials often came to eat at Woody’s, which has its own indoor barbecue restaurant, before returning to work, Panzar said. She added that she had occasionally questioned officers about the search, but no one in town seemed to know many details.
“It’s really, ‘Where was he all the time?'” said Panzar, who said she’s lived in Centerville since 2016 and is originally from Germany. “They went with dogs, they went on horseback and they didn’t see him. They never found him.
Lopez was convicted of murder in 2006 and was serving a life sentence. Authorities said he was a former member of the Mexican Mafia. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has offered a reward for information leading to Lopez’s capture, which has been increased to $50,000.
TDCJ officials said Thursday night they believe Lopez remained in the woods during the search and broke into residences to get food and water. TDCJ officials added that Collins’ ranch house had been cleaned several times during the search for Lopez and that he had recently visited the residence.
The cities of Buffalo, Centerville and Jewett form an area called “The Triangle” in Leon County, which is mostly made up of large ranches and farms in the rural central Texas county, Beham said. He said he spoke with a friend on Friday and the two wondered why law enforcement officials hadn’t used intelligence from locals who knew the lay of the land.
“This area is so unique because there are thousands and thousands of acres and there are ranches that are just intertwined,” Beham said. “When it started, I said to these people, ‘Do you realize that there are cabins, abandoned houses, stands of deer that we will not touch until October, that there has food, water, shelter, weapons that won we only see him in October? He doesn’t have to leave anywhere. They said: ‘Yes, we are going count now.’
It remains an ongoing investigation and assistance from the Texas Rangers has been requested, according to the Leon County Sheriff’s Office. No additional information was made available.
“It’s kind of a tight-knit community,” Beham said. “Everyone knows what everyone is doing and it’s a bit shocking that it happened. And everyone has an opinion on what they should have done.