Update 3, 12:35 p.m.: Includes information about evacuation in the neighborhood around the suspect’s home because a suspicious device was found.
Update 2, 10:40 a.m.: Updated to include an interview with U.S. representative Michael McCaul, who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Update 1, 8:30 a.m.: NBC News has reported that two law enforcement officials have identified the suspect as Mark Anthony Conditt, a resident of Pflugerville.
Nearly three weeks after a package bomb detonated at an East Austin residence—the first in a series of explosions that have gripped the entire city—setting off the largest bombing investigation in the country since the Boston Marathon bombings, the suspect linked to at least six bombs is dead, according to police. Austin police chief Brian Manley said in a press conference Wednesday morning that a 23-year-old white man, later identified by other law enforcement officials as Mark Anthony Conditt, blew himself up as officers approached his vehicle.
At this time, investigators are not sure what may have motivated the bombings, or if Conditt was working in concert with others. But Manley said that authorities are “comfortable” linking the six package bombs—four placed in residential neighborhoods, and two others sent through FedEx facilities—to the suspect.
Early Wednesday morning, federal and local officers began to stake out the Conditt’s vehicle, which had been traced to a hotel in Round Rock. As officers waited for tactical teams to arrive, the suspect began to drive away. Officers pursued the vehicle until the suspect pulled into a ditch off of Interstate 35. The suspect detonated a bomb from inside the vehicle as officers approached, killing himself and slightly injuring a SWAT officer, who was knocked back in the blast.
I can’t thank the men and women of #AustinPD or our Federal partners enough for their tireless work in restoring peace to our community.— Chief Brian Manley (@chief_manley) March 21, 2018
Manley cautioned Austin and surrounding communities to remain on the lookout for other possible devices that the suspect may have planted or mailed before his death. “This is the culmination of three very long weeks for our community,” Manley said. “Throughout these weeks we’ve talked about the importance of remaining vigilant and looking out for each other. I want to continue that message as we stand here this morning, though, because we don’t know where this suspect has spent his last 24 hours.”
U.S. representative Michael McCaul, a Republican from Austin, told Texas Monthly that the scale of the investigation leading to the suspect was virtually unprecedented. “This is the biggest bombing investigation since the Boston Bomber,” McCaul said. “More than 100 ATF agents and 400 FBI agents were involved. This is a textbook example of how it is supposed to work, in terms of the partnerships of federal, state, and local workers.”
Manley said that authorities began zeroing in on the suspect over the last 24 to 36 hours of the investigation thanks to video sources and witnesses. At the press conference, the police chief declined to release information on the suspect’s residence, but officials have since told multiple reporters that the suspect lived in Pflugerville, where police shut down parts of downtown due to a “suspicious package” hours before the suspect was killed.
“We brought an end to what was a nightmare in Austin,” said McCaul, who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
McCaul said police were able to secure critical evidence when the suspect sent a package bomb via Federal Express. “I think for [the suspect], his biggest mistake was going into the FedEx store, where we were able to get surveillance video from that, and his license tag number,” McCaul said.
Police and federal investigators descended on Pflugerville Wednesday morning and early afternoon, where they continue to search two homes—one belonging to Conditt’s parents, and another owned by Conditt and his father, according to property records.
ATF and FBI agents searched inside and outside Conditt’s parents’ property, a white, three-story home with an American flag hanging from the front porch. They passed by a tree house and a trampoline as they searched the backyard, peering into a small white trailer and lifting the lids of recycling and garbage bins.
Less than a mile away, closer to the main stretch of businesses in Pflugerville’s small downtown, police and federal agents had cordoned off the house owned by Conditt and his father. There was a heavier law enforcement presence surrounding this house, where some law enforcement officers wore heavy armor and carried rifles. Close to noon on Wednesday, Pflugerville police announced they had found something inside the house, and issued a mandatory evacuation for residents and businesses within a five-block radius, barricading off some streets downtown. It’s unclear what they found, but Pflugerville Police Chief Jessica Robledo said that the evacuation is being done for “safety reasons.”
On March 2, 39-year-old Anthony House became the first victim of the Austin bombings. The Texas State University graduate, husband, and father of an eight-year-old girl died when he opened a package left on the front porch of his Northeast Austin home. Ten days later, on March 12, two other package bombs placed at homes on Austin’s East Side exploded. Draylen Mason, a seventeen-year-old high school student and musician, died in a blast that also injured his mother. The second explosion that day injured 75-year-old Esperanza Herrera, who was visiting her mother.
On Sunday, a fourth bomb detonated, this time in a separate area of town and using a different method. Two unidentified white men, ages 22 and 23, were injured in a trip wire bomb set in a Southwest Austin neighborhood. The fourth bomb stoked fears that the attacks were not part of a personal vendetta but made at random, and showed “a higher level of sophistication and skill,” according to Manley.
An immense thank you to all of those at APD, the FBI, and ATF for working around the clock to protect us. While the investigation continues to ensure nobody else was involved and no other bombs have been circulated, our immediate nightmare has ended with the bomber’s death.— Lloyd Doggett (@RepLloydDoggett) March 21, 2018
The suspect’s death comes less than 24 hours after news broke that two devices linked to the serial bombings were found at FedEx facilities. Early Tuesday morning, a package bomb destined for Austin exploded in a Schertz FedEx facility, leaving one worker with minor injuries. Later that day, a second package with an undetonated bomb was found at a separate FedEx facility near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Both of the packages were traced back to the same origin, a FedEx location in Sunset Valley, and determined to be linked to the four previous explosions.
McCaul said that before the FedEx excursion, the suspect had gone to the Home Depot nearest his home in Pflugerville to buy materials that investigators believe were used in the bomb making.
“He was smart. He would turn off his phone. Once he went up on his phone, we heard it ‘ping.’ Then they were able to locate him and a chase ensued. The bomber eventually blew himself up. Now we are conducting several searches of the hotel. His home is Pflugerville and we are talking to his parents,” McCaul said.
“We are very lucky we could stop him before he killed anymore.”
A third explosion at an Austin Goodwill on Tuesday put the city on edge, but was later determined to be unrelated to the other bombings. Austin police said that the blast was not a package bomb, but an incendiary device described as “an artillery simulator.”
Despite the changing methods as the bombings progressed, Manley said Wednesday morning that authorities believe the six bombs were the work of the same person, but declined to elaborate on how officials seem sure that the six explosions are linked.
For now, it seems, Austin leaders—and the community as a whole—can breathe a qualified sigh of relief. In a tweet on Wednesday morning, Lloyd Doggett, the U.S. House member who represents parts of San Antonio and Austin, wrote: “While the investigation continues to ensure nobody else was involved and no other bombs have been circulated, our immediate nightmare has ended with the bomber’s death.”