Gonzalo Lopez, 46, was shot dead after killing a family of five. A repeat offender, he had managed to escape during a prison transfer and had been on the run for three weeks.
The people of Texas could finally breathe on Friday: Gonzalo Lopez, shot dead by the police during the night, will no longer harm. But just before, this brutal prisoner, who escaped spectacularly on May 12, murdered a family at the end of his run.
The deaths of these five innocent people – four teenage boys and their grandfather – is an “absolute tragedy”, said Jason Clark, a corrections official in the great southern state.
“But we breathe a sigh of relief, because Lopez will not make new victims”, he added in an improvised evening press conference.
Already convicted in 2006 for a murder with a pickaxe
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.
Sentenced in 2006 to life imprisonment for a barbaric murder committed with a pickaxe and kidnapping, Gonzalo Lopez inspired fear, that of a man with nothing left to lose.
Physically, he would have been perfect in the role of the “bad guy” of a Netflix series: the shaved head, a square face of a boxer on a broad neck, protruding pecs, tattooed like his biceps and his broad back. In short, a bully profile, made all the more dangerous by his known affiliations with the Mexican Mafia and its active prison gangs. The conditions of his escape illustrate his relentless determination.
Escaped during prison transfer
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, made in a prison bus well guarded by armed agents.
Since 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.
At that moment, a fight breaks out between the inmate and the driver, outside the vehicle: Lopez stabs 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.
Three weeks of manhunt between Houston and Dallas
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 John Ford western, we saw dozens of armed agents, cowboy hats screwed on their heads, combing this 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 ended up, 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.
Family of 5 found dead
Finally, after three fruitless weeks, the police were contacted 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, a Chevrolet Silverado pick-up, the investigators then gave the alert. It was at the wheel of this Chevrolet that Gonzalo Lopez saw his run end: the pickup was spotted in Jourdanton, south of San Antonio, then chased and finally stopped by a harrow deployed on the road.
The fugitive, carrying an assault rifle and a handgun, opened fire on the officers, without hitting 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.