Update (6:51 p.m., 3/20/18): An explosion early this morning at a FedEx facility outside San Antonio and an undetonated bomb found at a FedEx ground shipping facility in southeast Austin have been connected to the four previous package explosions. We’ll continue to update this post as we get more information.
Over the past week, Austin has been wracked with news of explosions. The first occurred on March 2, in East Austin, and last Monday two bombs exploded, killing an East Austin resident and injuring two others. Sunday night, another detonation injured two more in Southwest Austin. Because this is a developing situation, and an open investigation, there’s been a lot of speculation—and sometimes some outright misinformation—spreading on social media. Here’s an explainer of everything we know, and don’t know, so far about the bombings.
What’s been going on with the bombs?
On March 2, an explosion in East Austin killed 39-year-old Anthony House. House was killed by a bomb placed in a package that exploded when opened. Ten days later, two more package bombs exploded in East Austin: One killed seventeen-year-old Draylen Mason (and wounded his mother), while the other injured a 75-year-old woman who hasn’t been identified. Then, on the night of the March 18, another explosion—this one triggered by a trip wire, according to investigators—injured two cyclists in Southwest Austin.
Who are the victims?
House and Mason were both members of prominent African-American families in East Austin. The victim of the other March 12 bombing is 75-year-oldEsperanza Herrera. The men in their twenties who triggered the trip wire have yet to be identified, but investigators described them as white.
Why does race matter here?
One of the big questions that people have been asking about these bombings is whether they’re hate crimes. There’s certainly reason to be suspicious that they might be: The first two bombs were delivered via package to the families of people who are important in the East Austin African-American community. (House’s stepfather, Freddie Dixon, was a leader in the neighborhood’s African American Cultural Heritage District, while Mason’s grandfather is a dentist who’s served the community since the seventies.) However, we don’t know much about the victim of the third bombing, and we also don’t know much about whoever is responsible for these explosions. It’s certainly reasonable for people to be concerned about whether these attacks are racially motivated, but rushing to that conclusion without more information could terrify a community unnecessarily.
Do we know that the Sunday night bombing is related?
Investigators have confirmed that the bombings are related. The fact that this one appears to have been triggered by a trip wire—and that it’s in an entirely different part of the city—complicates the narratives around the bombings that existed before the explosion. Police also warn that the latest bombing may point to more random victims as opposed to targeted victims in the earlier bombings.
Doesn’t that mean that the bombings aren’t racially motivated?
We’d caution against making any assumptions about racial motivation at this point. The fact is that hate crimes are up in the U.S. in recent years, and there are real reasons to be concerned that they aren’t being reported as such in Texas. The thing about not knowing anything about the bomber or their motives is that…we don’t know anything about the bomber or their motives. It’s possible that, despite investigator suspicions, what happened in Southwest Austin on March 18 was the work of a copycat; it’s possible that the culprit is the same person or people, but that they were targeting different victims than they hit; it’s possible that the bombing on the 18th was intended to confuse people who suspected that it was a hate crime. You can add pretty much anything to this list of possible scenarios that you’d like, because everything is pure speculation at this point.
Was the same person behind the bomb that exploded at the FedEx facility near San Antonio early in the morning on Tuesday?
It’s unclear if the package that exploded in Schertz is connected at this point, but investigators said that it’s “more than possible” that it is. If it is connected, it’s a shift in the bomber’s M.O.; the Austin Police Department told reporters that the previous packages were delivered overnight by hand, rather than shipped using a service like FedEx. It has been reported that the package was shipped from Austin, and was heading to an Austin address. Ultimately, we’d urge caution on assuming anything until the investigators examine the evidence and establish a clear link—which will most likely happen when and if they’re able to identify similar materials or other clues.
Is this related to the bomb threat at SXSW?
Probably not. On Saturday, the final night of Austin’s SXSW festival, one of the event’s marquee performances—a jam session by The Roots featuring a number of black musicians—was canceled after a bomb threat against the venue was made. There were, reasonably, concerns that it might be connected to the explosions that happened on March 2 and March 12. However, police arrested a suspect in the bomb threat that same night, and don’t believe that the two incidents are related. According to the Austin American-Statesman, that suspect is accused of issuing threats to other Austin businesses since the middle of February, before the first bomb exploded—and, of course, the bombing on the 18th occurred after this suspect had been arrested.
What about the bomb scare in Houston?
Nothing at the moment connects the two. It’s possible that the Harris County scare is related—again, anything and everything is possible without all of the facts—but it’s also possible that there’s just a lot more people paying attention to suspicious packages than there would have been a month ago. We won’t include every bomb scare that gets cleared in the updates here, but it’s worth being aware that you’re likely to see more areas evacuated and checked for explosives while the investigation is ongoing, if for no other reason that because people are increasingly vigilant right now.
Why hasn’t the media been covering this?
This is a question that’s been going around a lot on social media, and, well, we suppose it depends what your idea of “media covering this” looks like. The March 2 bombing that killed Anthony House did not make many national headlines, but the explosions on the 12th were widely reported—here’s a story about them from News 12 in Brooklyn, and one from Madison.com, out of Wisconsin, just for example. After the evening bombing on the 18th, there was even more attention on the attacks—interim Austin police chief Brian Manley appeared on Good Morning America to talk about them—and, of course, local and statewide media have been all over this story since March 2.
Is this story a bigger deal now that the latest victims are white?
That’s a fair question, and one that’s impossible to answer. Certainly, there is a history in this country of attacks against people of color being underreported. According to a study from the Department of Justice last year, the majority of hate crimes in the U.S. go unreported. That’s a study that speaks to reporting to law enforcement, rather than reporting in the media, but still, it’s reasonable for people to be suspicious about how this is being reported. There has been legitimate criticism, for example, both in the U.S. and internationally, about which crimes get reported as terrorism and which do not. While there are legitimate reasons why the latest attack would prompt larger coverage—it’s a continuing story, the technique used is more sophisticated, there are additional victims—history warrants some skepticism about the media’s priorities, and it’s something that those of us reporting on it need to keep top of mind.