One Monday morning many years ago, Jan. 21, 2001, we watched out the front window of the Ute Pass Courier newspaper office in Woodland Park, Colo., as multiple emergency vehicles began filling up the newspaper parking lot.“
No information at this time,” is what they emergency staff told us when we tried to find out what was going on.
After nearly 20 minutes of being completely in the dark of what kind of operation was taking place in our own neighborhood, we discovered that police, including local city and county officers, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, FBI and federal marshals, arrested members of the Texas Seven in the Coachlight mobile home park directly to the east of us.
The seven inmates made their break from a maximum-security prison near San Antonio, Texas, six weeks prior to the excitement near our office.
Before showing up in our town, police say the fugitives killed an Irving, Texas, police officer, shooting him 11 times and then running over him as they looted a sporting goods store for clothing, weapons, ammunition and more than $70,000 in cash.
Three of the escapees were surrounded in Woodland Park by a police SWAT team at a convenience store a few miles down the road as they left the Coachlight RV Park to get their morning coffee.
At the same time that was happening, police surrounded the RV in the park with two other fugitives inside.
By using a bullhorn, police were able to get one of the two in the RV to surrender. The holdout, Ron Harper, took his own life by shooting himself twice in the chest.
He used two different weapons, according to information released later by the county coroner.
Two of the men remained at large for two more days and were finally captured in a Colorado Springs hotel room about 15 miles from here.
On the Jan. 21, Teller County Sheriff Frank Fehn got a tip from people who had watched the program America’s Most Wanted and said that “The Texas Seven” might be living in the RV park down the road.
The sheriff, posing as a tourist, loaded up his own RV with heavily armed state and federal agents, and that night drove into the trailer park so he could monitor the group. In the morning, when Rivas and two others jumped in their Jeep and left the trailer park, the police made a decision to act. Frank Fehn told it this way.
They were followed to a Western Convenience Store. They pull up to the gas pumps. Two units come from behind.
At least three, if not four, units boxed them in and immediately exited the police vehicles, weapons drawn, and totally surprised them.”
Rivas recalled it like this: “There was a man in front of me with an AR-15 pointing at my chest, officer next to me suited up in body armor. Car was still on, it was in gear. I had my foot on the brake. I had an opportunity to run.”
But Fehn says the escapees had no chance to flee.
“They did not have an opportunity to resist. If they did, it would not have been a blood bath, but three people woulda been dead.”
The three, Fehn noted, would have been the inmates.
The media circus gradually split up and migrated to several nearby locations including the Teller County Jail, the Teller County Courthouse in Cripple Creek, and down the hill to Colorado Springs where the last two were captured.
On August 14, 2008, Michael Anthony Rodriguez became the first of the gang to be executed for his part in the killing of Irving Officer Aubrey Hawkins on Christmas Eve in 2000. Rodriguez, claiming a religious conversion on death row, asked for years that his appeals be dropped so that he could face his punishment and stand a better chance at going to heaven.
George Rivas, leader of `Texas Seven’, was put to death by lethal injection for gunning down police officer Aubrey Hawkins on Feb. 29, 2012.
Texas Seven member, Donald Newbury, was set to die in February, last year, but U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia stopped his punishment at least temporarily. Patrick Murphy Jr., 50, Joseph Garcia, 40, and Randy Halprin, 34, are still appealing their death sentences. Halprin was denied a death row appeal in March.
At the time, most people here in Woodland Park were just happy that none of the locals were hurt, the bad guys were caught, and law enforcement was able to perform so efficiently.