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Police Officer Shot 11 Times By "Texas 7" Prison Escapees In Deadly Christmas Eve Robbery
On Christmas Eve, seven prison fugitives killed a dedicated Dallas-area cop during a sporting goods store robbery.
On December 24, 2013 the rush of last-minute Christmas shopping was in the air at Oshman’s Sporting Goods in the Dallas-area suburb of Irving, Texas.
At 5:45 p.m., shortly before closing time, two ADT security guards arrived. They reported that there’d been a number of robberies of Oshman’s stores.
Then, in a blink, something shocking happened. “The individual from ADT made the comment, ‘This is a robbery,’” former store manager Wes Ferris told Homicide for the Holidays, airing Dec. 8 at 8/7c on Oxygen.
“He had a 357 Smith and Wesson revolver in his hand and he pointed it at my chest,” Ferris added. “I turned around and I saw four other guys in the store and they were all armed.”
Christmas Eve robbers steal cash, guns, ammo, getaway car
He urged the employees to stay calm and cooperate as they were lined up and led to a break room in the back of the store.
Misty Simpson had arrived minutes earlier to pick up her fiance who worked in the store. The couple was expecting a baby. From the parking lot, Simpson observed what was happening in the store.
“I got out and I went to the payphone and called my best friend and said, ‘I don’t know if I’m going crazy. I think the store is being robbed.’ She was like, ‘I’ll come over there,'" she recalled.
Meanwhile, the criminals emptied cash registers and had Ferris open the safe. They stole firearms and ammo, seized the in-store security tape, and demanded keys to Ferris’ car.
By this time Simpson’s friend had arrived and called 911 on her cell phone. “We couldn’t really give a lot of details,” said Simpson. “I didn't really get to see anything except for them filing to the back.”
Officer Aubrey Hawkins shot 11 times and killed by robbers
Officer Aubrey Hawkins, 29, was on duty that night. During a dinner break with his wife, Lori Acosta, and their son at a restaurant a mile from Oshman’s, he heard a report. “Aubrey stood up and he was listening,’” said Acosta. “He said ‘Alright guys, I’ve got to go.”
Sgt. Karl Bailey described Hawkins as “a good friend, a good father, a good husband, a good police officer."
"He loved police work,” he told producers.
“The 911 call came out as a suspicious activity and not an armed robbery,” said Toby Shook, former prosecutor, Dallas Co. “He was not in the mindset when he drove down there that there were men with guns.”
As the robbers prepared to leave Oshman’s, they told employees not to move, according to Ferris. Outside, Simpson saw a police car “come zooming into the parking lot” and drive to the rear of the store.
“I started hearing gunshots,” said Ferris. After a silent spell and no sign of assailants returning, Ferris called 911. He gave a detailed account of the events.
A second officer arrived and saw the squad car and Hawkins, unconscious, on the ground, according to Shook. The officer radioed for help. A SWAT team arrived at the scene.
“Aubrey was taken to Parkland Hospital, which was the same hospital JFK was taken to after he was shot,” said Shook. “He had been shot 11 times, in the face, in the back.”
Officer Hawkins was pronounced dead at the hospital. Investigators set out to piece together the robbery and killing of Hawkins, whose gun was not at the scene.
“We suspected that he was shot and killed inside of his car,” said Jeff Spivey, retired Irving PD police chief. Police determined that robbers got away with $70,000, 42 firearms, ammunition as well as clothing that they could use to disguise themselves. Irving police also found a smoke grenade that was preserved as evidence.
By the time the 10 o’clock news aired, police wanted the media to report that they were looking for Ferris’ 1996 white Ford Explorer, according to Richard Ray, a former Fox 4 news reporter.
The vehicle was found in an apartment complex a mile from the store. The front seat was soaked with blood. That suggested Hawkins had gotten rounds off at the criminals. But who were they?
'Texas 7' identified as fugitives from maximum-security prison
Police learned that 11 days prior to the Oshman’s robbery, seven convicts broke out of John B. Connally Unit, a maximum-security facility in South Texas.
The fugitives were serving time for “murder, bank robbery, sexual assault, and hurting children,” said Shook. “They were not about to go back to prison.”
George Rivas was the apparent leader of the breakout. He was serving 18 life sentences, according to detectives. Oshman’s employees confirmed that the robbers were the prison escapees, whom the media dubbed the "Texas 7,” said Spivey.
Fear spread throughout the area. “They were clearly desperate to stay on the run, desperate enough to shoot a police officer,” said Ray. “It was scary.”
On Dec. 26, a call came in from the authorities in Arlington, Texas, about 10 miles from Irving. A hotel clerk believed she recognized three guests as members of the “Texas 7.”
A SWAT team descended on the inn. But the hotel guests were not the fugitives. “The clerk was really interested in the case,” said Ray. “She was trying to be helpful but she was wrong.”
Police fixed their focus on physical evidence including the blood in the getaway car. Analysis showed blood from two people who were not Hawkins.
Police checked with area hospitals but turned up no one who’d come in suffering from gunshot wounds. An investigation into the smoke grenade found at the crime scene turned out to be another dead end.
Weeks passed. Police expected to hear of more robberies but there were no more. “It was eerie how they had disappeared,” said Shook.
Investigators reached out to America’s Most Wanted. The true crime series devoted its Jan. 20, 2001 to the Irving, Texas homicide investigation.
Tip leads to arrest of the 'Texas 7' in Colorado
SWAT teams were assembled. Rivas, Michael Rodriguez, and Joseph Garcia were arrested at a gas station near the camp. Numerous guns were recovered from their car. “One of them actually had Officer Hawkins’ gun at the time that they were arrested,” said Spivey.
At the RV park, SWAT team members surrounded the escapee’s RV and ordered them to come out. Randy Halprin surrendered. Larry Harper fatally shot himself inside the camper.
The other two escapees, Patrick Murphy and Donald Newberry, had left in a van a day earlier to buy auto parts in nearby Colorado Springs. They were tracked down and surrendered.
The six escapees were returned to Texas and charged with murder. All six were convicted in individual trials and sentenced to death.
Four escapees have been executed. Halprin and Murphy are still on death row.
To learn more about the case, watch Homicide for the Holidays, airing Dec. 8 at 8/7c on Oxygen.