The manhunt lasted three weeks. It is now over. A killer who made a spectacular escape has been shot dead by police in Texas. He is suspected of having killed a family of five while on the run. Gonzalo Lopez, sentenced in 2006 to life imprisonment for a barbaric murder committed with a pickaxe and kidnapping, escaped from a prison bus on May 12.
At a press conference following the late Thursday night death of Gonzalo Lopez, Jason Clark, a prison official in the great southern US state, called the deaths of four boys an “absolute tragedy” teenagers and their grandfather, whom the criminal would have killed during his escape. “But we breathe a sigh of relief because Lopez will not have any further casualties,” he added.
A “term to this ordeal”
He said the police “very quickly shot Lopez and killed him, putting an end to this ordeal”. The 46-year-old fugitive had not been found for three weeks and the US Marshals, the agents specializing in the search for escapees, were beginning to doubt, despite the scale given to the manhunt, the largest in recent history from Texas.
Shaved head, square boxer face, bulging pecs, tattooed like his biceps and broad back, Lopez had known affiliations with the Mexican Mafia and its gangs active in prison.
Escaped from a metal cage, feet and hands chained
The conditions of his escape illustrate his determination. That day, Gonzalo Lopez was to be transferred from his prison in Gatesville to another Texas prison, in Huntsville, for a medical consultation. A journey of about 260 kilometers, in a prison bus well guarded by armed agents.
As the convicted repeat offender is one of the detainees under special surveillance, he is entitled to special treatment: in the vehicle, where 15 other prisoners are also transferred, he is placed in a metal cage, his feet and hands chained. The authorities have not explained how he managed to get on board with a homemade knife, hidden on him, then to get rid of his shackles. On the other hand, they reported that Gonzalo Lopez then cut the metal partition of his cage, managing to pass to the driver’s cabin, forced to stop the bus.
A bizarre escape
At that moment, a fight broke out between the detainee and the driver, outside the vehicle: Lopez stabbed the official in the hand and in the chest. Another armed officer, posted at the back of the bus, gets off in turn to try to neutralize the detainee.
But the criminal manages to get back into the driver’s cab, to take the wheel, leaving the two guards behind. They opened fire, puncturing a rear tire of the vehicle, which had become difficult to maneuver. In fact, a kilometer further, Gonzalo Lopez is the victim of an exit from the road. He abandons the bus and its inmates and passes out in the woods.
From the outset, the hunt mobilized impressive resources and all available police forces, supported by dogs and helicopters. It took place in a hilly region including plains, woods and rivers, halfway between Houston and Dallas.
In scenes worthy of a western, dozens of armed officers, cowboy hats screwed on their skulls, combed the rugged terrain on horseback. But the days passed, without result. The reward offered for any information favoring the capture of Gonzalo Lopez has been reassessed, up to 50,000 dollars. The fugitive found himself, unsurprisingly, at the top of the list of most wanted men in Texas, a state whose incarceration rate far exceeds that of all democracies on the planet.
Finally, after three fruitless weeks, the police were contacted on Thursday by a person worried that his relatives were not answering his phone calls. In a secondary house in the area searched from the beginning, the police found five dead bodies. According to the local press, it is a family from the Houston area: three brothers and their cousin, aged 11 to 18, and their common grandfather. Noting the absence of the family car, the investigators then gave the alert.
It was at the wheel of this car that Gonzalo Lopez saw his run end: the vehicle was spotted in Jourdanton, south of San Antonio, then chased and finally stopped by a harrow deployed on the roadway. Lopez, carrying an assault rifle and a handgun, opened fire on the officers, but did not hit them. They responded, killing him on the spot. It’s “the end of an ordeal”, summarized Jason Clark, responsible for informing the Americans about the hunt.