Investigative reporters find failures at TDCJ led to deadly prisoner escape

Gonzalo Lopez killed 5 family members as he eluded a manhunt for 3 weeks, investigators say.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2022
Escaped inmate Gonzalo Lopez: Failures made my Texas Department of Criminal Justice found that led to deadly chain of events
Investigators discovered that guards skipped both strip searches and a metal detector scan that might've uncovered the convicted murderer's two shanks in his pants before his killing spree.

CENTERVILLE, Texas (KTRK) -- New reporting gives additional insight into what happened when a Texas prison inmate escaped a transport bus and killed five family members from Tomball.

After further investigation, ABC13 partners found a series of issues and failures that led to Gonzalo Lopez escaping in May.

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Lopez was a convicted killer when he escaped a prison transport bus near Centerville. Weeks later he died in a shoot-out with law enforcement after he killed Mark Collins and four of his grandchildren.

They were at their family's ranch home, visiting from Tomball. Keri Blakinger is the journalist who coauthored Tuesday's reporting in both the Houston Chronicle and on the website for the non-profit Marshall Project.

"They did not fully search this man before he got on the bus," Blakinger told ABC13. "It sounds like from the prisoners I have talked to, that many of these security procedures have deteriorated over the past three or so years."

Among the article's key findings from a series of interviews and public records were that prison officials skimped on staffing for a bus with high-security prisoners. Guards skipped both of the two strip searches and a scan with metal detectors that might have uncovered two shanks Lopez hid in his pants. And that officers initially incorrectly thought another prisoner on the bus was the escapee.

"There was a lack of staff and that played a big role in it," Blakinger said. "Not just that there were two guards on the bus instead of three, but this is what leads to the complacency and to some of these security gaps."

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In the aftermath of the escape, ABC13's Brooke Taylor detailed some of the failures on board the transport bus and TDCJ changed its policy, telling ABC13 at the time three officers (instead of two) would be required on transport buses, they would employ enhanced search procedures, they would transport highest risk prisoners by themselves, among other changes.

ABC13 reached out to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and they sent the following statement.

"TDCJ is aware of the report today from the Houston Chronicle and Marshall Project. The internal and external reports into the Gonzalo Lopez escape will be released by the agency later this week."

This reporting was a joint effort from our partners at The Houston Chronicle and from the non-profit the Marshall Project.

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The five people found dead at their family's cabin include three brothers - 11, 16, and 18; their 11-year-old cousin; and their 66-year-old grandfather.