Information varies across news sources after death of suspect in series of fatal Austin bombings
Multiple bombs exploded in the outer Austin area over the past several weeks, triggered by mysterious packages left on doorsteps, along a sidewalk and deposited in the mail. During the worrisome time, multiple news outlets around the country reported varying or contradictory information disputed by Austin police and Austin sources. Some high-profile accounts on Twitter claimed that the bombs were racially motivated and targeted minorities, although the final explosion appeared to contradict those rumors.
On Tues, March 20, authorities tracked and followed the bombing suspect, a 23-year-old white man named Mark Anthony Conditt (although some news sites reported he was 24), who ultimately died when he detonated a bomb in his car in the town of Round Rock, Texas, north of Austin on Interstate-35, after being shot at once by a pursuing officer. Conditt was a native to Pflugerville, Texas, a town northeast of Austin, which may explain why many of the bomb sites were outside of the downtown area. I-35 was shut down following the stand-off, as well as intersections and blocks around Conditt’s home in Pflugerville.
Conditt filmed a 25-minute cell phone video confession in which he confessed to all the bombings shortly before the stand-off on Tuesday night. Both the Austin police chief and President Trump have yet to call the serial bomber a terrorist or say the explosions were motivated by hate.
Police say they are certain Conditt was the sole perpetrator responsible for the bombs, although The New York Times writes that they have not ruled out accomplices. Conditt lived with two roommates, who are said to be cooperating with investigators. The New York Times reports that Conditt’s house contained other explosive material, but that his roommates were allowed to return later in the day.
The horror began on March 2, when 39-year-old Anthony Stephan House, a Black man who was reported by the Austin American Statesman as a senior project manager for multiple Texas-based firms, opened a package placed on his porch in a community north of Austin called Dessau, just south of Pflugerville, Texas. House was killed in the explosion, leaving behind an 8-year-old daughter. Officers initially believed the bomb had been intended for a suspected drug dealer living nearby.
Ten days later, two explosions went off on the morning of March 12 in far East Austin, the first killing 17 year old Draylen Mason, a senior at East Austin College Prep and a talented bassist. Mason had recently been accepted to UT to continue practicing music, and 11 days after his death, he was admitted to the competitive Oberlin Conservatory of Music. His mother was also seriously injured and remains hospitalized. The second explosion critically injured 75-year-old Esperanza Herrera, and caused minor injuries to her mother.
Both bombs were placed on the doorsteps of racial minority families without being delivered through the mail service, and police discovered that House’s father was a close friend of Mason’s grandfather. These revelations led news teams and police to believe the bombs were racially motivated hate crimes targeting prominent African-American individuals, a narrative that has stuck with the public despite the latest events. The third explosion puzzled police, as they attempted to see a relationship between Herrera and the first two families.
On March 18, the Austin Police Department made a plea with the bomber to come forward, yet hours later, Will Grote and Colton Mathis, white men in their early twenties, were walking in the affluent neighborhood of Travis Country in south Austin when a bomb detonated near the sidewalk. Travis Country is located just off Texas State Highway Loop 1.
This time, the bomb exploded due to a tripwire, (reports are varied about whether the wire was rigged to a for-sale sign or a sign Conditt may have purchased and placed himself), indicating a higher level of sophistication, and changing the nature of the investigation.
On midnight on Tuesday morning, the San Antonio Police Chief stated that two explosive devices were found at a FedEx facility in Schertz, Texas, an hour south of Austin (although initial reports claimed it was in San Antonio), and while one exploded on the conveyor belt the other one remained intact. This news was contradicted when it became clear that the second package was in fact delivered from Schertz and found in an Austin FedEx facility located in south Austin.
Both packages delivered by mail were said to contain nails. NBC later reported that the bomber used “exotic” batteries that were ordered online. The Washington Post reported that the un-detonated bomb provided police crucial evidence, and that law enforcement experts were concerned over the changing tactics of the bomber from possible hate crimes to domestic threats, and were willing to classify it as the work of serial bomber.
President Trump’s administration, however, declined to call the bombs acts of terrorism but rather that of a “very very sick individual.” Trump did not speak about the attacks until the fourth bomb, which injured white men.
There is a vagueness of information about whether the fourth and fifth bombs had Austin addresses. The interim Austin police chief stated he believed that the detonated package was to be delivered to Austin, but multiple special agents and the police chief declined to specify.
KVUE-TV and USA Today reported that Conditt was tracked to Round Rock via his cell phone and investigators were able to view his computer search history, which contained searches on shipping.
NBC reported on a 2012 blog post supposedly written by the suspect while taking classes at Austin Community College. In the post he argues against legalizing gay marriage, supports doing away with the sex offender registry, promotes the death penalty and identifies as conservative, but also states he is not politically inclined.
Austin police say that there is still no established meaning behind the locations of the bombs – believing they were placed at random – and that there is still no clear motive. It is possible Conditt chose houses located near large highways so he could use Interstate-35 to commute across the metropolitan area.