(The Center Square) – A dangerous convict with connections to a Mexican drug cartel escaped custody May 12 west of Centerville. Now 12 days later, law enforcement officers from multiple agencies have no idea where he is.
Forty-six-year-old Gonzalo Lopez, considered to be armed and dangerous with known ties to the La Mana drug cartel from Tamaulipas, Mexico, was serving a life sentence for cumulative offenses and violent crimes committed in two border counties: capital murder in Hidalgo County and attempted capital murder in Webb County.
He remains on the loose.
After nine days and 800 personnel searching for him in Leon County, where he escaped, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) admitted Lopez was likely no longer in the area, and expanded its search statewide.
“We did everything we could by ground or air to find any trace of him,” TDCJ spokesman Robert Hurst said at a news conference. The search would continue even outside of Texas, he said, and “as far as we can go to get [Lopez] back into custody.”
Hurst told WTAW News that at one point as many as 800 law enforcement officers were in Leon County searching for Lopez.
Initially there were 300 personnel, then 500, working with dogs, horses, drones, helicopters and other support. None found him.
TDCJ explained how Lopez escaped in a Facebook post: “On May 12, the 46-year-old was being transported from the Hughes Unit in Gatesville to the Estelle Unit in Huntsville for a medical appointment. Due to his criminal history and restrictive housing status, inmate Lopez was being transported in a separate, caged area of the bus, designated for high-risk inmates.
“During the transport, inmate Lopez defeated his restraints, cut through the expanded metal, crawled out through the bottom of the cage, and attacked the driver. The officer stopped the bus and engaged in an altercation with inmate Lopez, both eventually exiting the bus. The second officer at the rear of the bus exited the rear door and approached inmate Lopez, who then reentered the bus and began driving down the road.
“The officers fired shots at the inmate and disabled the bus by shooting the rear tire. The bus traveled a short distance and then left the roadway, where inmate Lopez exited and ran into the woods off of Highway 7 in Leon County roughly 40 minutes north of Huntsville.”
Initially, law enforcement officers searched a 100-square-mile area. Hurst told local reporters that there was no evidence to suggest Lopez was dead or made it outside of Leon County. However, by May 20, TDCJ announced it had concluded its exhaustive ground and areal search in Leon County.
Only “a contingent of personnel will remain in the county and will be conducting strategic searches of areas outside the original secured perimeter,” TDCJ said in a statement. “The renewed focus by OIG, Texas Rangers, and U.S. Marshals is to leave no stone unturned as they follow leads and track Lopez’s whereabouts.”
Visitation for select prison units were also cancelled as the search continued. They resumed back to normal on Monday, May 23, at all facilities.
The TDCJ released photos of Lopez from the morning he escaped and described him as an Hispanic male, approximately 6 feet tall weighing 190 pounds.
“Anyone who has knowledge of Lopez’s location should come forward,” Inspector General Cris Love said in a statement. “Those found to be helping or harboring him not only will face arrest and prosecution, but I believe they are putting themselves in danger. Lopez has a complete disregard for human life and will do what it takes to avoid capture. We will take this investigation wherever it leads us until Lopez is back in custody.”