CENTERVILLE — Gonzalo Lopez, a known killer, escaped from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice custody on May 12, 2022.
A manhunt ensued — and he allegedly killed a family of five before being gunned down while trying to flee law enforcement.
“I mean living like that for an entire week was scary,” said Rachel Yepez, who works in the area. “At night you heard helicopters and everything else, and in the morning, you heard dogs barking and searching the perimeter, knowing they were just doing their job.”
For months, 25 News has been asking about the equipment used for the search. Many of those questions still remain unanswered.
"The department has an active and ongoing investigation into the circumstances surrounding the escape of Gonzalo Lopez from custody," said ML Calcote, assistant general counsel for the Texas Department of Public Safety.
"How did he escape authorities for so long?" asked Jessica Flores.
In a response to an open records request regarding equipment used by Texas DPS in the search, Calcote said: "The Department does not maintain a record listing the equipment used in the above-referenced incident."
Residents question how Lopez had the ability to remain in hiding during what Texas law enforcement called one of the biggest manhunts in state history.
The Department of Public Safety acknowledged helicopters, fixed-wing aircrafts and drones were used during the manhunt. They also used aircraft that included cameras, mapping systems, and a searchlight.
The question has been if DPS used thermal imaging cameras on the helicopter. We reached out to Travis Considine, communications chief of the Texas Department of Public Safety, and he hasn't responded.
We do know that DPS is using equipment up and down the US-Mexico border after an order from Gov. Greg Abbott and with the support of DPS Director Steven McCraw.
"Since the launch of Operation Lone Star, the multi-agency effort has led to more than 287,000 migrant apprehensions and more than 17,700 criminal arrests, with more than 15,100 felony charges reported," according to a press release. "In the fight against fentanyl, DPS has seized over 325 million lethal doses throughout the state."
The Texas National Guard & Texas Dept. of Public Safety work side-by-side along the southern border.— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) July 15, 2022
Thank you for your continued work to ensure the safety & security of communities across the Lone Star State. pic.twitter.com/3tIBUYX2O9
In that same press release, there is a picture of a Texas DPS helicopter.
According to DPSAircraft Operations Division, it is effective at arresting fugitives, locating suspects, deterring criminal activity, and bolstering border security.
Aircraft Operations Division has 50 police pilots and 25 tactical flight officers. A fleet of 14 Airbus AS350 helicopters, one Airbus EC145 twin-engine helicopter, four Cessna 206 single-engine airplanes, two Cessna 208 Caravan single-engine turboprop airplanes, two Pilatus PC12 single-engine turboprop airplanes, and a King Air 350 airplane.
"DPS troopers were led on a high-speed pursuit near Laredo before a smuggler and four illegal immigrants eventually bailed out of the vehicle and ran toward the brush."— Nick Bradshaw (@nbradshawtv) August 2, 2022
DPS releasing dashcam video of a highspeed chase along the border. pic.twitter.com/EwKdzizbau
Just before the escape, Abbott transferred $495 million in funding for Operation Lone Star.
- $210.7 million from the Health and Human Services Commission.
- $159.2 million from the Department of Public Safety.
- $53.6 million from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
- $36 million from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
- $31.2 million from the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
- $4.3 million from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
Today the Texas Department of Public Safety began arresting illegal immigrants and returning them to the border with Mexico.— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) July 10, 2022
Biden‘s border policies are crushing local communities up and down the border. pic.twitter.com/NYON3uQ7qN
After having millions cut from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and struggling with staff turnover, Operation Lone Star is now using TDCJ buses to transport migrants back to Mexico.
"TDCJ is assisting the state by providing bus transportation to return migrants to the border," said Amanda Hernandez, director of communications. "At the time, there are two TDCJ buses being used. The agency has four correctional officers dedicated to driving the buses on a rotating shift when transportation is needed. Department of Public Safety employees are on the bus for security."
Three weeks after Lopez escaped prison custody, five family members were found dead from stabbed and gunshot wounds.
Mark Collins, 66, and four of his grandchildren, including 18-year-old Waylon Collins, 16-year-old Carson Collins, 11-year-old Hudson Collins (all brothers), and their cousin, 11-year-old Bryson Collins.
Lopez took several guns and a white pickup and was killed by police near San Antonio after a shootout.