The 66-year-old man and four of his grandsons killed Thursday by an escaped Texas prison inmate at their family ranch were remembered as an “amazing” and “close-knit” family.
Mark Collins, 66; Waylon Collins, 18; Carson Collins, 16; Hudson Collins, 11; and Bryson Collins, 11 were allegedly slain by Gonzalo Lopez — who who was serving a life sentence for killing a man but had been on the lam since hijacking a prison bus in mid-May.
“What happened to the Collins family is unspeakable,” Harris County Sheriff’s Det. David Crain, a close friend of the family, said, according to CNN affiliate KTRK-TV.
During a Friday ceremony held at a baseball field 30 miles from Houston, he called the youngsters “bright, shining stars,” multiple outlets reported.
Steve Bezner, the family’s pastor, said Collins and his grandsons were an “amazing family” that was “close-knit and of deep faith,” CNN reported.
Brezner told The Washington Post the victims hadn’t previously come into contact with Lopez, 46, who was serving a life sentence for a 2006 murder on the Texas-Mexico border. He was being taken to Texas’ prison headquarters in Huntsville for a medical appointment when he made his escape, officials have said.
“For whatever reason, he somehow came upon them on this particular day,” Bezner said in a story published Saturday.
Waylon Collins had graduated from high school, and his younger brothers and their cousin had finished classes for the semester and packed for a stay at the family ranch, the Washington Post reported.
“Mark was a very active husband, father and grandfather who loved his grandchildren dearly and loved to spend time with them outdoors,” Brezner told the newspaper. “The boys were all involved in a variety of community activities — football, baseball, soccer.”
David Crain, a longtime family friend, said the victims were at their ranch in Centerville, where they often hunted and fished during the summer, NBC News reported.
The slain children attended schools in the Tomball Independent School District, a rep for which called the deaths “heartbreaking.”
“The loss of a student, for any reason, is heartbreaking, but to lose four in such a tragic way is excruciating,” Tomball Independent School District Superintendent Martha Salazar-Zamora said in a letter. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of these beloved students and grandfather.”
Andy Kahan, director of victims services for Crime Stoppers Houston, during a press conference read a statement from relatives expressing that they were “devastated by the loss of our dear family members.”
“These precious people who loved and were loved by so many will never be forgotten,” the statement said, according to NBC. “The impact on their family and friends cannot be overstated.”
Kahan went on to say Friday, “This is absolutely one of the most gut wrenching scenarios I’ve dealt with and I’ve seen a lot and been through a lot.”
Kahan also reportedly asked people to an online GoFundMe campaign meant to cover funeral expenses for the slain Collins family members. The GoFunMe had raised more than $260,00 as of Sunday morning.
“This is the worst that you can possibly imagine,” Kahan said. “It doesn’t get any worse.”
In May, Lopez, who was serving a life sentence for murder, escaped custody after he stabbed the driver of a prisoner-transport bus then fled on foot, authorities previously said.
He managed to get out of his shackles and stabbed a corrections worker driving the bus full of inmates in Leon County, sparking a struggle that caused the out-of-control vehicle to crash. The driver was slashed in the hand, and Lopez managed to run away — despite the presence of two armed correction officers on the bus.
A cell phone video captured the moment Lopez crashed the prison transfer bus and fled into the woods, sparking an intense three-week manhunt.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice offered a $22,500 reward for information leading to the capture of Lopez as authorities searched for the inmate.
On Thursday night, Lopez was killed in a shootout in a residential neighborhood in Jourdanton, Texas. Officers gunned down the wanted fugitive hours after he allegedly murdered the Collins family — then stole a pickup truck to carry on with his escape.
Lopez was spotted by law enforcement driving a white Chevrolet Silverado that he allegedly stole from the murder scene.