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Funeral services today for Tomball’s grandfather, 4 grandchildren killed by escaped inmate

They could make you laugh until your cheeks hurt. They loved sports and the outdoors. Above all, they strove to be good people.

That’s how thousands remembered five members of the Collins family at their funeral Saturday, nine days after an escaped prison inmate killed 66-year-old Mark Collins and his four grandchildren at his Centerville ranch.

“We are hurting today, and we are grieving today,” Houston Northwest Church Pastor Steve Bezner told mourners who filled most of the 4,000-seat worship center at Champion Forest Baptist Church. Another 8,500 people watched live video of the service on the church’s website and Facebook page.

“Evil is real and it’s in the world, and if you live long enough, evil will affect your life too,” Bezner said. “Our God is greater than what has happened, and I know that he will bring redemption.”

Collins and her grandchildren were murdered on June 2 by escaped inmate Gonzalo López. The convicted killer hijacked a prison bus on May 12 and eluded authorities for weeks before ambushing Collins and his grandchildren and stealing their van.

Police later spotted the truck near San Antonio and killed Lopez in a shootout. But the tragedy deprived a tight-knit Houston-area family of a beloved patriarch and four children: brothers Waylon Collins, 18; Carson, 16; and Hudson, 11; and his cousin, Bryson, 11.

Bezner called the tragedy a “gut blow.” However, as faithful Baptists, the Collins family said that faith is the answer to evil. And his faith is still strong.

“Please know we’re going to be okay,” said Chris Collins, the father of three of the slain children.

The family is suffering more than they could imagine, Collins told the crowd. But the outpouring of love and support they’ve received has been “one of the most overwhelming things we’ve ever experienced,” she added.

Amid the tears, there was also laughter as the speakers described the quirks and dreams of their loved ones.

Waylon was a fiercely independent risk taker with an infectious smile. He was a baseball player who worked hard to make the varsity team, Pastor Robert Stokes said.

Carson seemed tough and carefree, but he was sensitive and tender, Stokes said. He loved soccer and was working hard to be a better player. He was becoming a kind and confident young man who made sure to tell people how much he loved them.

Hudson cared for others and was empathetic to those who suffered. He loved golf and was ready to play on a youth tour. He was quick to smile and give hugs, Stokes said. His love of sandwiches was legendary.

Bryson, who lived in Magnolia, was the “brightest light in any room he walked into,” Stokes said. He loved hunting, fishing and sports. He was everyone’s best friend, Stokes said.

“I can’t begin to tell you how much I miss my brother and my fourth great-grandnephew,” said Michael Collins, Mark’s older brother.

He delighted the crowd with stories of Mark’s abilities as a quick thinker. Mark once got a job as a cook without any culinary skills at the age of 14. Mark soon discovered that he could take home leftover caramel popcorn for the family, so he made sure to make a fresh batch before closing time.

Mark and his brothers grew up but never lost their love for a good joke. Mark’s other brother, Glen, recalled how Mark once hooked a rubber snake to a fishing line and dragged it by the foot of his older brother, Mike.

“He jumped about 5 feet off the ground,” Glen said. “And when she hit the ground, I think a leak opened up.”

The loss of Mark and his grandchildren to “horrible and unspeakable evil” is almost overwhelming, Michael Collins said. But the response to that evil, the outpouring of prayers and support from the community, has helped the family find peace.

“I’m looking around the room right now just looking at the outpouring of love and her presence here,” Collins said. He summed up her feelings in three words:

“Overwhelmed, overwhelmed, overwhelmed.”

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