The victims were killed by escaped convict Gonzalo Lopez, according to the Leon County Sheriff. The convicted murderer had been on the run for more than three weeks.
The four boys were visiting their 66-year-old grandfather, Mark Collins, on his ranch off Highway 7. Three were brothers, 18-year-old Waylon Collins, 16-year-old Carson Collins and 11-year-old Hudson Collins. The fourth boy has been identified as 11-year-old Bryson Collins, a cousin.
Longtime family friend David Crain choked back tears as he talked about the boys.
"Those kids were bright shining stars, we coached them through baseball," Crain said. "These next few days are gonna be tough on all of us."
Waylon just graduated from Tomball High School where he played baseball. He and his younger brothers were the only children of Chris and Misti Collins. She is a teacher in Cy-Fair ISD.
The family released a statement Friday evening.
"We are devastated by the loss of our dear family members at the family ranch in Centerville, Texas," the statement read. "These precious people who loved and were loved by so many, will never be forgotten."
Andy Kahan with Crime Stoppers Houston read the statement at a news conference alongside Crain and the family's pastor.
"I just want to ask everybody to pray for them, give them a virtual hug," Kahan said. "They have an incredibly long, emotionally draining, grueling journey ahead of them."
He said a GoFundMe.com account has been set up for all three families.
He said the family has already received condolences from all over the world.
Pastor Steve Bezner said the Collins are a family with a deep and "unrelenting faith."
The story hit too close to home throughout the Tomball area and up in Centerville.
“When something like this happens, your heart breaks – as a mother, you just can’t imagine such loss," said Tiffany Wimpee, a Tomball parent.
She said the victims were cousins of her best friend.
“Just knowing that torture they’re going through – I can’t even imagine, you know?" said Rachel Bray, another Tomball mom. "Being parents, it’s just .. I don’t know that I could go on."
WATCH: Full news conference
The Centerville ranch was used as a weekend home for hunting, fishing and other activities.
"That ranch is a kid's dream," Crain said. "A big pond, boats, they could shoot guns."
It's only about half a mile from where Lopez escaped. Neighbors and other residents dropped off flowers, balloons and teddy bears to honor the victims.
Hours after the bodies were found, Lopez was killed in a shootout with law enforcement officers in Atascosa County, which is just south of San Antonio.
Tomball ISD sent out the following letter to parents about the death of the students:
“The loss of a student, for any reason, is heartbreaking, but to lose four in such a tragic way is excruciating, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of these beloved students and grandfather.
“We ask that you extend your prayers and support to these families who need us the most at this time. We share a special bond in Tomball and understand this will personally affect many students and families in our small community.”
Tomball ISD schools are out for the summer but the district said grief counselors will be on hand to help those who may need them.
Tomball Little League also released a statement because Waylon Collins was an umpire there.
"We are deeply saddened to hear about the tragedy within the Tomball community. We mourn the loss of these lives and pray for their family and all who knew them. One of the children was an umpire at Tomball Little League. Our baseball community is heartbroken to lose a colleague and friend."
Authorities said the victims arrived at the home on Thursday. They think they were killed Thursday afternoon because they were seen earlier that morning.
Their bodies were found around 6 p.m. after a concerned family member called to say they couldn't reach them.
A TDCJ spokesman said Lopez stole several weapons and a truck from the home before heading to Jourdanton where he was killed.
According to Crain, there was a burglary at the house next door that was linked to Lopez a few days before the murders. He didn't know if the Collins family had been told about it.
The grandfather did know about the search for the escaped inmate. The family’s property had been searched and cleared before. However, his friend says what he learned from Texas Rangers, that there was a break-in just days before at a neighbor’s property, was critical information.
“I do feel that if Mark had been made aware, he was in a day or two of being on his property, he would have never exposed those kids to that danger," said Crane.
KHOU 11 called several agencies to find out if the information on the break-in before the murders was shared. TXDPS and TDCJ referred us to the Leon County Sheriff’s Office. No one there answered the phone. It’s a question KHOU 11 will keep asking.
Lopez got away on May 12 by shedding his shackles and cutting through a metal barrier before stabbing a correctional officer and getting away on foot after the prison transport bus he had taken over crashed.
The search to find the 46-year-old had focused in Centerville, Texas, which is two hours north of Houston.
TDCJ is reviewing their protocols to determine how Lopez was able to get away. They believe he had been in the woods near Centerville, hiding and breaking into properties to steal food, water and clothes.