Serial bomber sets off explosion as police near; home reveals more explosives

Crime

The suspected Austin bomber, 23-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt, is dead after detonating a bomb inside a car on Interstate 35 after a SWAT officer fired at him, Austin Police Department Chief Brian Manley said.

“This is the culmination of three very long weeks in our community,” Manley said.

The explosion happened on Interstate 35 in Round Rock near Old Settlers Boulevard around 2 a.m. Wednesday. Investigators had recently identified a white man as a person of interest and then a suspect, and found the vehicle he was known to drive at a Red Roof Inn in Round Rock. 

Officials filed a federal criminal complaint and arrest warrant against Conditt Tuesday night, charging him with one count of Unlawful Possession and Transfer of a Destructive Device. The complaint affidavit remains sealed at this time.

Law enforcement took up positions around the hotel and was waiting for APD’s tactical team to arrive to take the bomber into custody when he started to drive away. Officials followed, and he pulled to the side of southbound Interstate 35.

When SWAT approached, Chief Manley says he detonated a bomb, which knocked one SWAT officer back and gave him minor injuries. Another officer, who is an 11-year APD veteran, fired at Conditt. The officer will be placed on administrative duty, per APD policy.

The suspect died and had “significant injuries” from the bomb, Manley said. Officials have not determined a motive for the bombings yet, but say they believe he is connected to all of the package explosions since March 2.

Southbound I-35 was closed for much of the morning while officials investigated, but reopened around 8:25 a.m. 

Police activity centered in the parking lot of a Red Roof Inn at 1990 N. I-35, just south of Chisholm Parkway.

Michael Luna, a witness staying at the hotel who is ex-military, told KXAN the blast sounded like two grenades going off. 

A woman named Christie, who didn’t want to share her last name, was staying at one of the hotels just outside where the blast happened. She noted that hours before — she thinks as early as 8 p.m. Tuesday night — she saw what she believed to be unmarked law enforcement vehicles gather in her hotel parking lot.

She saw an undercover vehicle take off and get onto I-35, flashing its lights. To get a better view, she went up to her hotel to see, by that time she saw a group of law enforcement vehicles stopping traffic on the frontage road. 

Justin Medlin who was staying at the Red Roof Inn very close to the scene where the blast happened said he saw Conditt Tuesday night at around 9 p.m. at the Shell gas station next door. 

“He actually was still out here, sitting out by the phone pole over here by the Shell gas station, he actually asked me for a cigarette and I gave him a cigarette and went about my way,” said Medlin.

“I didn’t really realize that [Conditt] was the kid until you see him on the news and I’m like ‘Holy Crap that’s the guy I saw last night,’ and it’s scary to be right here with all that going on.”

Medlin’s friends thought they’d seen Conditt in passing as well. They were so spooked to discover he was the bomber that they decided they couldn’t stay in the hotel any longer. 

While it’s unclear which hotel along I-35 Conditt was staying at, KXAN has confirmed that credit card receipts linked his purchases at a Fry’s electronics store with a purchase at a hotel he was staying at. 

“We don’t know where the suspect has spent his last 24 hours and therefore we still need to remain vigilant to ensure that no other packages or devices have been left in the community”

– Interim APD Chief Brian Manley

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Austin Police Department, were all on scene. APD will conduct an internal investigation into the officer-involved shooting, the Texas Rangers will also investigate and the police monitor will be involved as well, Manley said.

The chief also warned the public that officials do not yet know what the suspect did in the past day, and they don’t know if there are any more devices in the community. Law enforcement officials warn residents in Austin and surrounding communities to be vigilant and report anything suspicious.

“If you see something that looks suspicious, If you see something out of place, If you see something that gives you concern, call 911 and let us know,” Manley said.

Officials do not yet know if Conditt had an accomplice or accomplices.

Guests react to takedown of bomber near hotel

Explosives at Bomber’s Home

State troopers, ATF and FBI agents started looking through Conditt’s home located at 403 North Second St. in Pflugerville around 10 a.m. 

Just before noon, the Pflugerville Police Department evacuated people in a five-block radius from downtown Pflugerville west of Railroad Avenue and north of Pecan Street.

In a Wednesday afternoon briefing, ATF said that inside Conditt’s home they found components used to make explosives; However, there were no completed devices. 

When asked if there were enough material to classify it as a “bomb-making factory” like NBC News has reported, ATF agent Fred Milanowski said, “I wouldn’t classify as full of material but there is one room that has a considerable amount of material. I wouldn’t call it a bomb-making factory.”

Milanowski said ATF explosive experts working with FBI bomb technicians have been able to reconstruct all the devices used in these bombings and they believe similar components were found inside Conditt’s home.

Austin police said they detained and questioned Conditt’s two roommates. The department says it won’t release their names at this time because they are not under arrest. One roommate has already been released.

ATF says it’s difficult to say what his roommates knew since each of them had a separate room inside the house.

Officials also have a presence at Conditt’s parents’ house a few blocks away. They confirmed his family is cooperating and that the family expressed condolences to the victims. 

Closing in on the suspect

Surveillance photos appeared to show the suspect inside the FedEx shipping store on Brodie Lane. The pictures show a timestamp of March 18, 2018 at 7:37 p.m. The suspect, seen with blonde hair, is wearing a baseball cap and can be seen carrying two packages. His hands appear to have gloves on them.

Gov. Greg Abbott said it had been a matter of time before the suspect was caught, as law enforcement officials had been tracking him for the past 24 hours. Witnesses noticed the suspect’s appearance, including a blonde wig, was unusual, and their descriptions helped officials connect the dots in their investigation. Still, Abbott said they wanted to be able to question the suspect.

“No one wanted to see it end how it did,” Abbott said.

Full video: Austin police on tracking down the bombing suspect

A Month of Terror

A multi-agency investigation that spanned numerous locations and two cities over the span of several weeks led authorities to the suspect in Round Rock.

The first bombing happened on Friday, March 2 at a home located at 1112 Haverford Dr. in northeast Austin. Anthony Stephan House, 39, died when he picked up a package on his front porch. 

The second and third bombing happened 10 days later on Monday, March 12. The first explosion rocked Oldfort Hill Drive in east Austin at 6:44 a.m. Draylen Mason, 17, died at the scene. His mother was taken to the hospital with injuries.

The second explosion that day happened on Galindo Street in southeast Austin. Esperanza Morena Herrera, 75, was critically injured and remains hospitalized.

The fourth bombing happened in southwest Austin in the Travis Country neighborhood on Sunday, March 18 around 8:30 p.m. Two men in their 20s were injured when a tripwire bomb exploded on Dawn Song Drive. This case showed the serial bomber using a different method since the first three cases involved packages left at homes. 

The fifth explosion happened on Tuesday, March 20 in Schertz at a FedEx sorting facility. That explosion led authorities to another suspicious package at the FedEx facility in southeast Austin. Manley said they aren’t releasing who those packages were being sent to, but says law enforcement has been in touch with them.On the same day, local and federal authorities confirmed the serial bomber sent two packages from the FedEx shipping store on Brodie Lane.

Over the course of the investigation, KXAN discovered investigators visited numerous hardware stores across the city searching for evidence.

FULL: Pflugerville police, federal officials speak Wednesday afternoon

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