Austin interim police chief Brian Manley joined the KXAN News Today team for an update following three package explosions in the city that killed two people.
John: Anything new to report in the past 24 hours?
Manley: What we worked on overnight with our federal partners is the blast reconstruction and post-blast investigation that takes place. As you can imagine with an explosion like this, the debris field and the evidence has really spread over quite a distance. So there’s a meticulous process they go through to collect all of that evidence. And then we’re using the ATF’s laboratory to do all of the analysis. What we will work on now is working on any tips that we will receive, looking for any connection between the victims in these incidences that we can try and understand if there is a motive behind these attacks for if these are random attacks.
Sally: What can you tell us about some of these victims? Have you identified for at least the next of kin for the 17-year old that was killed or any of the other ones who were injured?
Manley: Yeah, so we’re not releasing the identity of the 17-year-old yet. That may come later on today. And as well as the elderly lady that was injured in the afternoon blast yesterday.
Sally: What do her injuries look like? Are they still life threatening?
Manley: She is still in critical condition at the last update I was given, and I will receive another briefing later on this morning and we’ll understand better what her condition is, but we are all hoping and praying that she fully recovers from this.
John: So the Washington Post has reported that there was a man, iIguess I should say the grandfather of the 17-year-old was friends with the stepdad of the man who was killed back on March 2nd. Have you guys been able to verify that and have you found that to be anything more than a coincidence if that’s the case?
Manley: So that’s something that we are going to look into. I’m not sure if our investigators have cleared that lead yet or not. But that’s going to be part of the morning briefing that we have to see is there any connection there that would be relevant to the investigation.
Sally: When we talk about the victims here and we know the one, on March 2nd, we have a face and we have a name and we can know a little bit about him. The 17-year-old. We have gotten so many reports and tips from viewers. I know I personally know people who know this family as well. Have you talked to the family? What kind of 17-year-old was this little boy?
Manley: You know we’re hearing the exact same things. That this was just an absolutely amazing young man who was on his way to doing great things you know for himself and for his community and for a lot of us. So this really is a significant loss to, you know, not only have someone struck down in their childhood, really, but someone who was doing so many good things. So we have heard a lot of the same of what you’re hearing about what kind of a young man he was.
John: Yesterday you had mentioned during one of your many briefings that you gave that you’re not even sure if the victims are the intended targets. Have you made any progress down that trying to figure out were these just random or accidental?
Manley: So that’s really going to be the focus. Is there specific ideaology behind these attacks, is there a specific victimology or a connection between these victims. Because that’s really the direction we need to go to try and understand what’s going on here. As we’ve said, we don’t see any indicators or any ideology behind this that makes us believe this is terrorism, but we will not rule that out until we have a reason to because we don’t want to limit our focus on the investigation. The same with any other motives. We’re keeping all options and all motives in the investigation on the table now because we don’t want to rule anything out until we have a reason.
Sally: Including that it’s all happening on the east side of town as well?
Manley: Sure, those are some of the similarities that we’re looking for to see if any of those give us anything towards a motive or towards a reason behind these attacks.
John: So obviously APD has a bomb squad. You have people trained in this kind of stuff. But when we see this string of events that on one hand appear to be random but also kind of appear to be random, how kind of, outside the scope of what the bomb squad normally would do is an investigation like this?
Manley: So the work that’s being done isn’t necessarily outside the scope of APD’s bomb squad, but it would exceed their capacity if we didn’t have the assistance from our federal partners at both the FBI and the ATF. So we’re fortunate that we have members of our bomb squad that have recieved a tremendous amount of training in this area and this training was actually provided by FBI and ATF. But the sheer capacity challenge would overburden our unit and that’s why we’re grateful to have the assistance that we have.
Sally: When we talked to somebody who is kind of a profiler who studies these kinds of devices, they’re telling us that it does not appear that this is an amateur that’s putting these what you describe as IEDs together. What can you tell us about the sophistication of these bombs?
Manley: The individual, or the suspect or suspects that are building these devices, they do have a level of skill. They’re putting these bombs together, they’re transporting them to their intended locations and them without detonating them either during construction or deployment. And that takes a level of skill, because what we have seen is that when the victims have picked these packages up they have at that point exploded. So there’s a certain level of skill and sophistication that whoever is doing this has and again we’re hoping that we will use the evidence that we have to try and track them down based on what we’re seeing on all three scenes that seem to be consistent.
John: Forgive me if this is a dumb question. But can you get something like fingerprints or DNA or something off of a package like this that’s been detonated? Is that possible?
Manley: Well it is possible and that’s the work that the ATF has agreed to do for us. We’re fortunate again to have them participating. and I want to highlight that. The level of participation that we are seeing and then the level of cooperation among those participating I believe is unprecedented. And every single person that was on that scene yesterday, both scenes, along with those that were with us back on March 2nd is committed to helping us put an end to these attacks and arresting the individual that’s responsible for these.
Sally: This doesn’t happen in Austin. As you were walking up the set this morning, we were just talking about this is so unusual for our city and to see a level of cooperation is assuring as the governor would say. But when we go to the March 2nd investigation, did that hurt us in the investigation because that was classified as first a homicide and then a suspicious investigation and then go back to the homicide. What is the reason for the back and forth, and did that hurt us, did that hinder the investigation at all?
Manley: So, first of all, it did not hinder the investigation at all because nothing slowed down. On the March 2nd, we still had participation from our federal agencies with the FBI and the ATF. The ATF collected all of the evidence, bringing it to their lab for analysis. So it didn’t slow anything down and it’s just a process that our homicide investigators use as far as classifying a case. But the case was still being actively investigated by our department as well as our federal partners so it didn’t complicate or slow anything down but it became obvious yesterday when we had those incidents occur that what we had is an apparent pattern and it was appropriate to classify that back to its original classification.
Sally: You’re putting a task force together. Are you putting any kind of tipline together:? What can we do right now to make sure that it doesn’t happen again?
Manley: Absolutely. First of all to make sure that it doesn’t happen again, what we are asking is be vigilant. It’s not a time to panic, but it’s absolutely a time to be vigilant and pay attention. If you see something that looks suspicious, let the police department know. If you received a package that you were not expecting, if it’s sitting on your porch or in your driveway, let us know. Now if you ordered something from Amazon and you got a shipping notice and you got a package on your front doorstep that is from Amazon and you got a delivery receipt, then you’re OK. But if you see something that looks suspicious, something that you weren’t expecting, call us. We will respond. We have responded to over 150 incidents already since we put this out and we will continue to respond because we don’t want someone accidentally picking up one of these devices or even touching one of these devices and having another either significant injury or death in our community.
John: And it’s important to know, you said none of these devices have been shipped through the mail or UPS or anything like that?
Manley: That is correct, these are packages that are being left on people’s either porch or walkways or driveways. These are not coming through USPS. They are not coming through UPS, FedEx, DHL or any of the other shippers. These are packages that are being left on people’s front porches.
John: Any change in staffing today or patrols after what happened yesterday?
Manley: So we’ve been fully staffed up based on the music festival that’s in town right now. What we are doing though is just the officers, again, are joining the community in that hyper-vigilance of paying attention and for anything they may see if they see a package sitting out in front of a house as they’re on their patrols through the neighborhoods, then our officers are going to stop and they’re going to take a look as well.
Sally: OK, before we let you go and I’m going to ask this one last question: From what you’re gathering from your investigators, is this going to happen again, is this person going to leave another device on a front porch?
Manley: So I can’t sit here and say whether or not they’re going to, but the fact that it’s happened three times is leading us to the level of preparedness and the level of vigilance we want to see in the community. So I couldn’t say that it is or it is not. And that’s the importance of why everyone needs to stay aware and call us if there’s something suspicious.
Sally: We appreciate you and all that you do, so thank you so much