LEON COUNTY, Texas — After an exhaustive ground and air search in Leon County, the search for escaped inmate Gonzalo Lopez is entering a new, expanded phase, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) said Friday.
A $50,000 reward is now being offered for information leading to the capture of Lopez.
Editor's note: The above video originally aired on May 19.
Last Thursday, May 12, Lopez escaped custody by shedding his shackles and cutting through a metal barrier on a prison bus before stabbing a correctional officer. Video from a witness showed Lopez running through a wooded area.
The renewed focus by the Texas Rangers, U.S. Marshals and other law enforcement agencies "is to leave no stone unturned as they follow leads and track Lopez’s whereabouts," TDCJ said Friday.
A separate contingent of TDCJ personnel will remain in Leon County to conduct "strategic searches of areas outside the original secured perimeter."
“Anyone who has knowledge of Lopez’s location should come forward,” said Inspector General Cris Love. “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.”
Lopez, a known killer with a violent history, is approximately 6 feet tall and 190 pounds and was last seen wearing white clothing in a wooded area off of Highway 7 in Leon County.
Those with information on the suspect should call TDCJ OIG Crime Stoppers at 1-800-832-8477 or 936-437-5171 or call 911 immediately.
Week one of search for Texas prison escapee
Until now, the search to find Lopez focused in Centerville, about two hours north of Houston, and the surrounding area.
“He’s crafty," Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Robert Hurst said. "He’s done this before down in South Texas in Webb County he hid out for almost nine days.”
On Wednesday, we got a better idea of what those search efforts look like when TDCJ released a video showing hundreds of officers marching through the brush acre-by-acre. They even showed a pop-up city that developed on the cow pastures around Centerville.
Also Wednesday, authorities released photos of Lopez that were taken by surveillance cameras shortly before he boarded the bus last Thursday.
Hurst said they haven't found any suspicious activity, but as the manhunt continues, he had a message to the community.
"This is a very dangerous man. Back in 2005, he killed someone with a pickax. In 2004, he shot at an officer. If he has that device, whatever he used to cut through the door and also stab the officer, folks to need to be aware he may still have that on him," Hurst said.
Hurst said it's still unclear if anyone from the inside helped him get away and also said it's unclear if the bus was being followed.
“There is no indication that there was anything of a suspicious nature from the time that bus left Gatesville until the time of the accident," Hurst said.
Who is Gonzalo Lopez?
Lopez is serving back-to-back life sentences for shooting at a Webb County, Texas sheriff's deputy in 2004 and killing a man with a pickax in Hidalgo County after holding him ransom on a drug debt.
It's not the first time Lopez has managed to hide from law enforcement for an extended period of time. In 2004, he was able to run away from a police chase in South Texas and stayed hidden with the help of a cartel associate, he told investigators at the time.
Sam Houston State University Criminal Justice professor Mitchel Roth writes books about inmate escapes and prison gangs.
“It’s a pretty much backwoods area," Roth said. "There’s not a whole lot of people living out there, lots of places to hide and that sort of thing, but I would suspect he’s already gone somewhere and that he’s had help from somebody else.”
Roth says it makes sense because the gang Lopez is affiliated with teaches its members to live like soldiers.
“The Mexican Mafia is kind of one of the old school prison gangs," Roth said. "One of the first, it’s a very elite type of prison gang where they don’t just take everybody and they treat everybody like they’re in a paramilitary unit.”
Which makes the idea of surviving in the woods and evading capture for more than one week, more understandable.
“I heard one of them say that they’re like the Green Berets of prison gangs," Roth said.