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Inmates' theft stokes fears of bloodbath

Published Sep. 28, 2005

The Texas escapees have a cache of guns and, authorities believe, no intention of being taken without a fight.

The prison escapees accused of robbing an Irving, Texas, sporting goods store and killing a police officer got away with a cache of weapons, ammunition and money, authorities said, causing concern that the suspects might be preparing for a battle rather than face arrest.

The robbers stole at least 25 new weapons _ many of them semiautomatic hunting rifles and pistols _ during the Christmas Eve raid on the Oshman's Super Sports USA store, law enforcement officials said. They also made off with a large amount of ammunition, a shopping cart full of winter clothes and $70,000 in cash, the officials said.

As the robbers left the business, they were confronted by Irving police Officer Aubrey Hawkins. The officer was shot to death before his duty weapon was stolen. According to officials, he was run over as the robbers, dressed as security guards and communicating with walkie talkies, fled in a stolen sports utility vehicle.

The suspects' firepower concerns authorities, who say they fear the escapees won't be taken without bloodshed. In addition to the 26 guns from the Oshman's incident, the suspects are believed to have 14 pistols, a rifle and a shotgun stolen during their Dec. 13 escape from the Connally Unit near Kenedy in South Texas.

Lori Bailey, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Dallas, said the bureau is beginning to compile behavioral profiles of the escaped convicts. She declined to discuss the gang's possible motivations or plans.

"They are apparently on a mission, and it's a pretty dark mission," Bailey said. "Does anybody know what that is right now? I don't think anybody does."

The ransacking of Oshman's gun and ammunition racks alarmed authorities. Investigators also are concerned about the possibility that the robbers will fight to the finish before they're captured. Officers are concerned that the seven escapees have remained together and might be desperate now that they face the death penalty or life in prison if convicted of Hawkins' death.

Authorities said they had few viable leads regarding the escapees' whereabouts, despite a number of hotline calls from residents. One such call involved a supposed sighting at a west Dallas gas station.

The escapees are Randy Halprin, who was convicted of injury to a child; Larry Harper, convicted of sexual assault; Patrick Murphy Jr., convicted of aggravated assault; Donald Newbury, convicted of robbery; George Rivas, convicted of robbery and kidnapping; Michael Rodriguez and Joseph Garcia, both convicted of murder.

Rivas, Newbury and Rodriguez were serving life sentences; Garcia, Harper and Murphy 50 years each and Halprin 30 years.

Officer David Tull, spokesman for the Irving Police Department, said investigators aren't sure whether the escapees have received help from anyone in the area.

"We're trying to look at every angle we can think of," he said. "If we really had a good answer to that, I think we'd be a little closer to finding them. Bottom line, we don't know who, if anybody, around here would be helping them. But I think that's a logical assumption; something brought them here."

Although the escapees loaded up a shopping cart with warm clothing, including coats and sweaters, there is no evidence that camping gear was stolen, officials said.

That might signify that the plan is to stay in an urban environment, some officials said. Other authorities, however, are speculating that the escapees might head to a rural area where they can hide out, possibly in a cabin or farmhouse.

Police in Pearland, Texas, which is near Houston, say a Radio Shack was robbed on Dec. 15 by two men. The men took employees to the back of the store and tied them up before robbing and looting the store.

Authorities believe the Pearland incident _ where walkie talkies and police scanners were taken _ might be the work of the escapees, who used a similar tactic at the Irving store.

Irving police Chief Lowell Cannaday said earlier this week that his department had been shaken by Officer Hawkins' death and that his investigators were working around the clock to find the suspects and prevent more bloodshed.

"We've just lost a member of the family in a very tragic and senseless way," he said. "We're angry, we're incensed, we're frustrated."