Just days before he killed 66-year-old Mark Collins and his four grandsons, Lopez broke into a neighboring property, according to spokesman Robert Hurst of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Collins and his grandchildren had been visiting the family’s weekend ranch outside Centerville, Texas, located near where the inmate had escaped three weeks prior and within the perimeter police were searching following the escape, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Lopez broke into the neighboring home of the sprawling Collins ranch property “24-48 hours in advance” of his attack on the family, Hurst said. No one was home at the neighboring house at the time.
Law enforcement officials did not appear to alert residents that there were signs of suspicious activity at the home next to the ranch, according to CNN conversations with local residents. In response to questions about why locals were not alerted as soon as law enforcement suspected a break-in had taken place, a Texas prison spokesman said DNA testing was needed to confirm it was Lopez who broke into the home.
Mark Collins and his four grandchildren were shot and stabbed to death, according to Crime Stoppers of Houston director of victim services and advocacy Andy Kahan, who says he met with the Collins family in the days after the killings.
After killing the family, Lopez stole their truck and was quickly named by authorities as the prime suspect in the killings. On June 2, the fugitive was killed in a shootout with police officers in the town of Jourdanton, hundreds of miles from the Collins’ home, DCJ said.
Officers were able to disable the truck with a spike strip, causing Lopez to crash. He then engaged in a firefight with officers, DCJ said.
“He fired several rounds at officers and was armed with an AR-15 and a pistol,” Jason Clark with the DCJ said, adding they believe the firearms were likely stolen from the home in Centerville where the family was killed. No officers were injured.
The grandchildren killed by Lopez were identified as brothers Waylon, 18, Carson, 16, and Hudson, 11, and their cousin, Bryson Collins, 11.
Other prisoners created a distraction, state says
As the bus approached Centerville, the 15 other inmates on the bus started causing noise and distraction, allowing Lopez to carry out his escape, Hurst told CNN.
Inside the caged area, Lopez used a “prison-made knife and key” to break free from his handcuffs and to cut through the cage to reach the prison correctional officer who was driving the bus, according to Texas State Sen. John Whitmire, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice and routinely receives briefings from state law enforcement.
Lopez and the driver got out of the bus, and a second officer at the back of the vehicle got out and began approaching the prisoner, DCJ said. Lopez got back in the bus and drove a short distance, authorities said.
The officers shot out the back tires, causing Lopez to crash a short distance down the road, according to authorities. The inmate then ran off into the woods along Highway 7 in Leon County.
For three weeks, Lopez avoided police as a massive manhunt for him was underway. For the first two weeks of the search, prison officials held multiple briefings on search efforts that included about 400 officers on the ground, searching the wooded area where Lopez was believed to be hiding.
“We had no clue where he was,” Hurst told CNN. “How he managed to give everybody the slip was incredibly frustrating.”
CNN’s Andy Rose, Christina Maxouris and Ray Sanchez contributed to this report.