Courtesy Collins family
(CENTERVILLE, Texas) — A Texas community is reeling after five members of a Houston-area family were killed in an “unspeakable” crime.
Three brothers, their cousin and their grandfather were found murdered at the family’s ranch in Centerville, located between Dallas and Houston, on Thursday, authorities said.
An escaped inmate, who was killed in a shootoff with police hours after the family’s bodies were discovered by law enforcement, is believed to have broken into the home and committed the murders, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
“Those kids were bright, shining stars,” David Crane, a long-time family friend, told reporters Friday, saying the “unspeakable” incident has resulted in an “unfillable loss.”
The four boys, who attended Tomball Independent School District, were active in sports, including football and baseball, and loved spending time at the family’s ranch, Crane said.
The eldest brother, 18-year-old Waylon Collins, had just graduated from high school. He loved to fish at the ranch, Crane said.
The youngest, 11-year-old Hudson Collins, was baptized by a family member just three days ago in the family’s pool, according to Steve Bezner, senior pastor at the family’s church, Houston Northwest Church, in Houston.
They were found dead along with their brother, 16-year-old Carson Collins; their cousin, 11-year-old Bryson Collins; and their grandfather, 66-year-old Mark Collins, on Thursday after someone contacted law enforcement to do a welfare check, authorities said.
A vigil was held at Tomball High School Friday night in honor of the close-knit family.
“They’re incredibly active in the community, very well-known here, very well-beloved here,” Bezner told reporters. “The outpouring of support from the community is not simply in response to the tragedy, but actually in response to the fact that they are just loved people.”
The Collins family said in a statement that they are “devastated” by the loss.
“These precious people who loved and were loved by so many will never be forgotten,” the family said. “The impact on their family and friends cannot be overstated.”
Their pastor described the family as having “the greatest character, the deepest faith and unrelenting kindness and love.”
“I was honored to sit with the family last night and this morning again for several hours and the characteristic that continued to jump out was unrelenting faith,” Bezner said. “They did not understand — why none of us can understand why. But they continue to say we trust that God is good. And we know that he is with us in the midst of these circumstances.”
The family’s ranch in Leon County was near where the inmate — convicted murderer Gonzalo Lopez, 46 — had escaped three weeks ago.
“This is absolutely one of the most gut-wrenching scenarios that I’ve dealt with — and I’ve seen a lot,” Andy Kahan, director of victim services for Crime Stoppers Houston, told reporters.
Following the discovery of the murders, Atascosa County Sheriff’s Office deputies spotted a pickup truck stolen from the ranch that Lopez was believed to be driving. The suspect was killed in an ensuing shootout with law enforcement, authorities said.
A massive manhunt had been underway for Lopez after he managed to break free from custody near Centerville while being transported from Gatesville to Huntsville for a medical appointment on May 12, authorities said. He was added to Texas’ 10 Most Wanted Fugitives List and a $50,000 reward was issued for his capture.
Lopez was serving a life sentence for a capital murder in Hidalgo County and an attempted capital murder in Webb County.
ABC News’ Jennifer Watts and Flor Tolentino contributed to this report.
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