Waylon Collins had just graduated from high school, and his younger brothers, Carson and Hudson, along with their cousin Bryson, had finished classes when the four loaded up their fishing rods to visit the family ranch.
But when relatives were unable to reach them, they called on a neighbor Thursday to check on them.
Mark Collins, 66, and four of his grandsons were found dead inside the home. Authorities believe that escaped inmate Gonzalo Artemio Lopez, who was serving a life sentence after being convicted of killing a man with a pickax, killed them and fled in the farm truck. Lopez was killed hours later in a shootout with law enforcement officers.
The family’s pastor, Steve Bezner, said in a phone interview Saturday with The Washington Post that the victims had no previous connection with the inmate.
“For whatever reason, he somehow came upon them on this particular day,” Bezner said.
Law enforcement officers had been searching the area after the inmate broke free on May 12 from his restraints during a bus transport, stabbed the driver and fled. It’s unclear whether he was already inside the Collinses’ ranch house when the grandfather and the four boys arrived or whether he broke in while they were there. But when authorities arrived, a white 1999 Chevy Silverado was missing, and, hours later, they found the inmate driving it about 260 miles away in Atascosa County, not far from San Antonio, authorities said.
He led authorities on a chase before crashing the vehicle and shooting at officers, who returned fire, police said.
The pastor said the Collins family is devastated, describing Collins, of Houston, and his grandsons, Waylon, 18, Carson, 16, Hudson, 11, and Bryson, 11, as well known in the community and “incredibly loved.”
“Mark was a very active husband, father and grandfather who loved his grandchildren dearly and loved to spend time with them outdoors,” he said. “The boys were all involved in a variety of community activities — football, baseball, soccer.”
He said Collins’s wife, Lisa, is “definitely emotional, she’s definitely upset, but she’s also placing her hope in God.” Waylon, Carson and Hudson were the only children in their family, but Bryson has a younger brother, he said.
The family, which has requested privacy, released a statement stating: “These precious people who loved and were loved by so many will never be forgotten. The impact on their family and friends cannot be overstated.”
Law enforcement officials have not released details about the Collins family’s encounter with the inmate.
During a news conference led by Houston Crime Stoppers late Friday, longtime family friend David Crain said that Collins was aware an inmate had escaped in the area and that authorities had been in contact with the family, searching their weekend house multiple times. It’s not clear, however, whether the family had been informed that a burglary had occurred just next door several days before Collins and his grandsons went, and that it may be linked to the escaped inmate, he said.
Crain said he believes that had Collins been aware, “he would have never exposed those kids to that danger.”
All four boys were students within the Tomball Independent School District, which put out a letter Friday lamenting their deaths.
“The loss of a student, for any reason, is heartbreaking, but to lose four in such a tragic way is excruciating,” the district said. “We share a special bond in Tomball and we understand this will personally affect many students and families in our small community.”
The family is expected to hold services after authorities have finished their investigation. A GoFundMe campaign, which was created to help the family pay for expenses, had raised more than $200,000 by Saturday afternoon.
“What has happened to the Collins family is just unspeakable,” Crain said at the news conference, choking back tears. “Those kids were bright, shining stars.”
Timothy Bella and Julian Mark contributed to this report.