(NewsNation) — Texas police say they shot and killed an escaped inmate who’d been on the run for weeks, but only after he killed five people earlier Thursday.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice says officers killed Gonzalo Lopez during a shootout in Jourdanton, Texas — about 30 miles south of San Antonio.
Hours earlier, authorities say he killed five people, including children, at a home around 250 miles northeast in Leon County, Texas. They also say he stole their truck and weapons.
Police across the state knew what vehicle to look for and eventually caught up with him south of San Antonio. Investigators said Lopez took off after he realized he was being chased and eventually lost control of the truck. The convicted killer was reportedly armed with an AR-15 and handgun when police shot him.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice Chief of Staff Jason Clark insists the area where the family was killed had been searched for Lopez “multiple times.” Thursday alone, Clark says, there were more than 40 roving officers in that area looking for Lopez.
But NewsNation spoke with the victims’ neighbor, who said police were not keeping residents informed enough about the manhunt as it dragged on.
Lopez had been on the run since May 12, when Texas authorities say he broke out of his restraints, stabbed a prison transport driver, took control of the bus and eventually ran away through a field.
The neighbor, who NewsNation will refer to as Melanie for her safety, said when the manhunt started, there were several guards blocking highway entrances every hundred feet.
“But then, next thing you know, they disappear completely,” Melanie said. “There were no more briefings, not only for ya’ll (the media), but no law enforcement were really giving us any updates regarding the search whatsoever.”
She said the neighborhood grew less vigilant as the manhunt continued.
“It terrifies me to know that that man could have been standing in my backyard, in the woods, camouflaged, and I would never know it,” Melanie said. “I am angry at TDCJ and their negligence for allowing this man to escape.”
When asked if law enforcement failed the family of five killed within the Lopez search area, Clark replied: “Anytime that you have someone that escapes custody, that is absolutely something that we have to go back to the drawing board and figure out what happened. At the end of the day, we will conduct a serious incident review to determine exactly how Gonzalo Lopez was able to break free.”
Clark does not believe Lopez knew the family.
“Lopez is obviously a killer. He has a disregard for human life. We know that. Law enforcement knows that,” Clark said.
A former FBI agent said on “Morning in America” that she was “mystified” as to why law enforcement didn’t apprehend Lopez sooner.
“What’s mystifying to me is how far he actually didn’t get. Yes, I fully agree that he was on his way to Mexico. But really, the home that he was in, in this area, really this is more of a kind of vacation community where people have second homes, and they probably keep going to their homes for hunting and things like that,” Tracy Walder said. “So I’m very surprised that he really wasn’t found too far south of this area really only about two hours. So my question was, was he going from weekend home to weekend home to weekend home where there weren’t people and that’s where he was sort of getting this shelter? I think that’s what was really surprising to me.”
Authorities on Thursday said Lopez killed two adults and three children. However, the Tomball school district in suburban Houston said Friday that four children were killed and one adult. The four children were students in its district and the adult was their grandfather, said school district Superintendent Martha Salazar-Zamora.
The Texas Department of Public Safety identified Lopez as an affiliate of the Mexican mafia and say the convicted killer had ties to the South Texas area. At the time of his escape, Lopez, 46, had been serving a life sentence after he was convicted of murdering a man with a pickax in 2005.
A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) told local television stations this week that the search for Lopez was the “largest concentrated manhunt,” since 2004.