AUSTIN (KXAN) — For the first time in nearly a year, the public is getting an inside look at what investigators were looking for in the hours before Austin bomber Mark Conditt blew himself up along Interstate 35 in Round Rock on March 21, 2018.
The secrecy surrounding the federal investigation into what led Conditt to plant multiple package bombs around Austin last year continued right up through the closing of the investigation last week. The FBI closed its investigation into the case on Jan. 10, but no one in the public knew about the finality of the case until nearly a week later.
Media reports on Jan. 14 were the first time the public knew the FBI had officially closed the investigation. A spokesperson with the Austin Police Department said their investigation into the bombing remains open.
The mother of the first bombing victim, Anthony Stephan House, told KXAN she had not yet been notified from authorities that any cases were closed. She still wants to know why and how her son was targeted, and plans to reach out to the Austin Police Department this week.
Since Conditt’s death, federal agents have scoured every element of his life. Investigators interviewed Conditt’s family, friends, neighbors and executed nine separate search warrants on his home, vehicles, electronic devices, financial records and on his digital life in an effort to figure out whether he acted alone.
“In the course of its investigation, the Government found no evidence of communications or links between Conditt and any international
terror groups or domestic hate groups. The Government likewise found no evidence that any recognized ideology had motivated Conditt.” — Jan. 10, 2019 motion
Investigators were also working to figure out whether Conditt had ties to international terror groups or “domestic hate groups,” the government’s latest motion shows.
At the end of the investigation, the federal agencies investigating Conditt found “no evidence that any recognized ideology” fueled Conditt’s bombing spree that killed two Austinites and left five other people injured from the blasts.
Closing in on Conditt
On March 20, federal agents and local police were convinced they knew who was responsible for the bombing spree and got an arrest warrant for Mark Conditt that day. Surveillance video from an Austin-area FexEx store captured Conditt delivering boxes to be shipped to more addresses in the city.
That trip to the shipping store also led agents to capturing Conditt’s license plate and a description of his SUV. That SUV is what law enforcement found at a Round Rock hotel before dawn on March 21 while they waited to serve a federal warrant on him.
Conditt drove away from the hotel with agents behind him. Minutes later, he was surrounded. A law enforcement helicopter’s video camera showed the moment a bomb inside Conditt’s vehicle exploded with two police officers standing only feet away from Conditt.
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley told reporters at a press conference later that day that Conditt recorded a 25 minute-long “confession” video on his cell phone sometime before his death. “He does not at all mention terrorism or anything about hate,” Manley said of the video.
“Instead it was the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his personal life that led him to this point,” Manley said.
Keeping some things secret
Although the government’s motion does ask to make certain elements of some of the search warrants and evidence against Mark Conditt public, prosecutors hope to keep other elements in the records sealed, the motion shows.
“However, the other interests favoring non-disclosure remain as compelling now as they were during the investigation.”
Prosecutors want a judge to unseal and unredact the search warrant served on Conditt’s N. 2nd Street home in Pflugerville. “There is little possibility that unsealing the search warrant affidavits will hinder any ongoing investigation related to these events,” U.S. Assistant Attorney Michael Galdo wrote in the Jan. 10 motion.
“However, the other interests favoring non-disclosure remain as compelling now as they were during the investigation. The Government’s requested redactions are designed to protect those interests,” Galdo wrote.
In further explaining the reason for the continued secrecy surrounding the court records, Galdo wrote in the motion, “…the possible chilling effect on information provided by informants and witnesses to law enforcement; the potential hindrance to law enforcement if certain investigative techniques or explosive device-making techniques are made public; innocent third parties’ rights to privacy; and disclosure restrictions related to certain protected records and to personal identifying information, as imposed by law and the rules of this Court.”
Tuesday afternoon, the FBI office in San Antonio released nine unsealed search warrants used in the Conditt investigation. Several of the search warrants contain multiple redactions.
The warrants were supposed to be made public on Jan. 11 when United States Magistrate Judge Mark Lane signed the order to unseal the records. Prosecutors did not release the record until Jan. 15 after reporters found the Jan. 10 motion.
Those search warrants were served on: Google Search, Google Maps, Waze and Microsoft for addresses involved in the bombings and for search tems that include “bomb,” “explosive,” “pipebomb,” “motion,” “low explosives,” and several other bomb-related keywords, one of the newly-unsealed warrants shows.
One of the warrants shows agents found “Destructive Device-making equipment, fraudulent paper license plate tags, a wig similar in appearance to that seen in the FedEx footage, over 100 pounds of ammonium nitrate, and other materials that could be used to manufacture additional destructive devices.”
Agents also tracked down a YouTube channel and a blog that belonged to Conditt. Conditt used an online search engine to locate the FedEx store where he was later spotted delivering two bombs while wearing a wig,” the court records show.
When ATF Special Agent Reynaldo Alatorre Jr. asked a federal magistrate to issue one of the March 20 search warrants, he was looking for evidence inside Conditt’s home to connect him to the bombings. At this point in the investigation, Conditt was still on the loose and investigators were working to find him.
Agents had already collected bomb parts from five separate bombs that exploded around Austin. The search warrant, which is partially redacted, shows Conditt walked into Fry’s Electronics on North MoPac on Feb. 27, 2018 and bought battery packs to hold four AA sized batteries.
“All six explosive devises utilized a [redacted] 4XAA Battery Holder With Snap Connector,” the search warrant shows.
Other elements of the search warrant that could be soon made public include bombmaking items used in the explosions, a Facebook page where an address in the bombing was discussed, locations where agents found surveillance video and photographs of a red truck belonging to Conditt.
Agents did not collect any phone data that would have placed Conditt at the scene of the bombings. However, agents were able to show calls from Conditt’s cell phone placed to a garage door company, which the search warrant shows “wiring used in the device was consistent with wiring used on [redacted].”
In the days following Conditt’s death, KXAN filed multiple open records requests with all local, state and federal law enforcement agencies involved in the Conditt investigation. Our requests sought any photographs and video collected through the course of the investigation.
Each of those agencies initially denied releasing the public records, citing a “pending investigation” exception in state and federal open records laws. With the official closing of the investigation, KXAN has renewed those requests.
We’ll publish those records as soon as they’re released.