UPDATE: Authorities identified the serial bomber Wednesday as Mark Conditt, a 23-year-old white man from Pflugerville, Texas, who once maintained an anti-LGBT, anti-choice blog for a college project. Police were able to track down Conditt, who left behind a 25-minute video confession, thanks to surveillance footage holding three clues that broke the case wide open: A man in disguise dropping off packages, pink construction gloves and a red 2002 Ford Ranger, according to The New York Times.
For nearly three weeks, residents in Austin, Texas had been gripped by fear as a serial bomber terrorized the city. No one knew when or where the next package bombing would occur – or if there would be another one at all. The uncertainty put everyone on edge.
But now, it seems the rash of deadly bombings has come to an end. The person believed to be behind them died by suicide early Wednesday morning as Austin SWAT officers started closing in, officials said. Though the chief of police urged caution – “We don’t know where this subject has spent his last 24 hours,” he said – the Austin community can breathe a cautious sigh of relief.
“When I heard the news this morning, I was elated but I still felt weary,” South Austin mother of two Randi Ragsdale, who lives near one of the bombing sites, tells Rolling Stone. “Austin is a wonderful place to raise a family and I’m hopeful this is all over.”
Within the last 24 hours, authorities were able to track the suspect – reportedly identified as 23- or 24-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt, a white man – to a hotel in Round Rock, a mid-sized city just outside of the Austin metro area, according to police. They started following the suspect in his car when he pulled over on Interstate 35 and set off an explosive device, killing himself and injuring an officer.
“The suspect is deceased and has significant injuries from a blast that occurred from detonating a bomb inside his vehicle,” Austin’s interim Police Chief Brian Manley said at a news conference Wednesday. The explosion also knocked back one of the SWAT officers, who sustained minor injuries, Manley added.
The Austin Police Department spent nearly a month trying to catch the serial bomber without any luck, until a major break in the case this week cracked the investigation wide open. In the past day, police were able to obtain surveillance footage that showed the suspect at a FedEx store in Sunset Valley, a small suburb surrounded by Austin, after they learned the bomber shipped explosive devices from that location.
Along with other evidence, including store receipts, authorities were able to trace the suspect back to the Williamson County hotel Tuesday night, officials said.
“Fortunately, we were able to do some digging and find this individual over the past 48 hours,” Fred Milanowski, a special agent in charge with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told the Austin American-Statesman Wednesday.
The wave of bombings began March 2nd, when Anthony Stephen House, a 39-year-old father and athlete, was killed by a package bomb left on his front porch. The second and third bombings occurred 10 days later, on March 12th, killing 17-year-old cellist Draylen Mason and critically injuring two women, including Mason’s mother. Both explosions happened after the victims handled packages left on their respective doorsteps. House and Mason, both of whom were black, had a long history as family friends who attended the same church, according to a local NAACP president. But police still have yet to determine a motive, according to news reports, and it’s unclear if the serial bombings were racially motivated.
Sunday’s blast in South Austin, though, represented a slight shift in the bomber’s M.O. Two young men were seriously injured after a fourth package bomb exploded, possibly triggered by a tripwire strung across the sidewalk, according to police.
Although already rattled by the bombings, Ragsdale says the fourth attack caused “a whole new level of anxiety.” “I dropped my toddler off at school only to learn one of the bombs was mailed from our local FedEx location, just a block away,” she tells Rolling Stone. “I [found] it harder not change my habits and not live in fear when everything’s happening so close to home.”
A fifth attack on Tuesday happened about 60 miles away from Austin, at a FedEx distribution center outside of San Antonio, injuring one employee. That same day, an unexploded package bomb was found at a FedEx center near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
The suspect wasn’t identified at the time, but authorities believed the bombings were the work of the same person. Manley said in a news conference on Monday that law enforcement may be dealing with a sophisticated, highly skilled “serial bomber” based on the similarities among the attacks, the Texas Tribune reported.
Rolling Stone reached out to APD for further comment, but did not hear back in time for publication.
President Donald Trump had finally addressed the serial bombings on Tuesday in a White House press conference alongside Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. “What’s going on in Austin – a great place, a tremendous place – is absolutely disgraceful,” Trump told reporters, according to ABC News. “We have to find this very sick person or people.”
“We have to find them really immediately,” he added.
After news broke Wednesday of the bomber’s death, Trump tweeted, “Austin suspect is dead. Great job by law enforcement and all concerned.”
Police are still investigating to see if the suspect acted alone or had accomplices, officials said. Although the suspect is dead, Manley warned people in Austin and the surrounding areas to remain cautious and keep an eye out for other possible explosives.
“This is the culmination of three very long weeks for our community,” the interim police chief said on Wednesday. “We don’t know where the suspect has spent his last 24 hours, and therefore we still need to remain vigilant to ensure no other packages or devices have been left in the community.”
Before Wednesday, Manley had made public pleas for the bomber to come forward and explain the meaning behind the blasts. “These events in Austin have garnered worldwide attention, and we assure you that we are listening,” he said during Monday’s news conference. “We want to understand what brought you to this point, and we want to listen to you.”
At this point, police have not ruled out that the bombings could be hate crimes, as the first bombing victims were people of color. The second and third attacks occured in East Austin, a historically and predominantly Black and Latino neighborhood.
“I’m sad that you’re not gonna get any answers [for] why he did this,” Ragsdale tells Rolling Stone. “But I guess it really doesn’t matter.”