KAUFMAN –– The reward for information leading to the arrest and indictment of those who killed Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland, his wife Cynthia and the county's Assistant DA Mark Hasse has doubled to $200,000.
The reward was announced Thursday along with the rollout of a statewide billboard campaign, which will advertise the tip line phone number alongside photos of the victims.
"These are truly direct attacks on the core of our civil society, the rule of law," Gov. Rick Perry said from Kaufman on Thursday. "The fact is, we cannot react with fear. We've got to react with resolve and our state and local and federal authorities are pursuing every lead."
Perry's office added $100,000 to the reward pool, doubling what Kaufman County Crime Stoppers initially offered for the Jan. 31 slaying of Hasse. He said he hoped the new amount would be enough to convince someone with information pertaining to the case to tell it to authorities.
"Any organization that is operating in the state of Texas outside the bounds of our laws is going to be put on notice that we're going to hunt you down, we're going to punish you," Perry vowed.
The governor joined Kaufman County Judge Bruce Wood, Sheriff David Byrnes and FBI Special Agent Diego Rodriguez in the news conference. The county's state representative, Lance Gooden, and state Sen. Bob Dewell flanked the speakers.
Interim District Attorney Brandi Fernandez was also present and spoke publicly for the first time since her boss and his wife were murdered, saying she was "extremely proud" of the dedicated office she's come to lead.
"I can tell you on Monday that every single person showed up," she said, wearing a green ribbon on her left coat lapel in remembrance of Hasse and the McLellands. "They're dedicated to this community, we're staying dedicated to the job."
Fernandez said her office has not asked for any continuances or recessed any juries since the McLellands were found gunned down in their Forney home on Saturday.
The office was closed Thursday so employees could attend a memorial service for the victims. Other than that, it's business as usual, Fernandez said. But after the weekend's brazen shootings, an armed escort guides anyone with business there inside the courthouse. A security detail is assigned to the interim DA 24 hours a day. She said she’s adjusted and called it necessary.
“It certainly puts a kink in your life, but I think it’s necessary so we can show up and get this job done,” Fernandez said. “It’s just a necessary inconvenience.”
District attorneys offices across the state have bolstered security around their public officials since the crimes. When asked if the Kaufman County killings would "embolden" those who wish to do harm to prosecutors and others inside county courthouses, Perry said no, but urged them to be aware of their surroundings.
"Anyone who, whether they're a prosecutor, in law enforcement or an elected official should always be very cognitive of their surroundings, of their personal safety," the governor said.
Now five days after the McLellands were found killed, each speaker remained tight-lipped on specifics of the investigation. They instead used the time to urge residents to come forward with any tips they may have.
"Call us on any information you have, no matter how minor you think it may be," Sheriff Byrnes said.
On Monday, Gov. Rick Perry addressed the Kaufman killings from Austin, taking note of a Department of Public Safety report that Mexican cartels were the most significant criminal threat to the state.
At the news conference Thursday, Perry said those comments were not meant to imply that a Mexican drug cartel organized the killings in Kaufman County. He said the investigation is considering all angles and it would be “premature” to release what those are.
“We know we have a porous border, we know that drug cartels, the gangs, both transnational and otherwise, in some cases, are operating together,” Perry said. “So all of that is that obviously open for interpretation and investigation. We will leave no stone unturned.”
Perry also refused to speculate on any connection between the prosecutor murders and the killing of Colorado prisons chief Tom Clements. Last month, the prime suspect in his death, known white supremacist Evan Ebel, died in a shootout with authorities in Decatur after fleeing Colorado.
On Wednesday, an officer safety bulletin said two persons of interest in the Clements killing, fellow supremacists James Lohr and Thomas Guolee, may also be fleeing Colorado for Texas.
On Jan. 31, hours after Hasse was killed walking to the courthouse, the Department of Justice issued a bulletin thanking the Kaufman County District Attorney’s Office for its help in securing convictions against high-ranking members of the Aryan Brotherhood Texas, sparking speculation that the prison-based gang could be behind the prosecutor's slaying.
Investigators had been searching for any connections between Clements’ and Hasse’s killing prior to McLelland being gunned down, but reportedly did not find anything of substance.
“I think all of the information is gathered and it’s appropriately processed and for me to speculate is inappropriate and premature,” Perry said, referring to a question regarding any connection to a white supremacist gang.
To close the briefing, Fernandez remembered her boss and his slain wife, calling him a kind man who frequently had a smile sprawled across his face.
“Him and Cynthia, I think, were like the mom and dad of the office. I still kind of halfway keep expecting him to walk in with a plate of cookies that she cooked for us, you know? I think we all halfway keep expecting that, that this is not real. But it is,” she said.
“But because of that, we are a family and, just like the governor said, they came together Monday and it was beautiful and they’ve come together every day since then to get the job done, to do what we need to do.”
Anyone with information about the crimes is asked to call Kaufman County Crime Stoppers at 1.877.847.7522. All tips are anonymous.