In the end, it was sightings of a strange man in a blond wig in several stores that led authorities to a serial bomber who had terrified the city and suburbs of Austin, Texas, for almost three weeks and left two people dead.
The suspect, identified as Mark Anthony Conditt, an unemployed 23-year-old white man, killed himself with one of his own devices early on Wednesday in his SUV after being cornered by a swat team overnight at a suburban hotel parking lot.
“The suspect is deceased and has significant injuries from a blast that occurred from detonating a bomb inside his vehicle,” Brian Manley, the Austin police chief, told reporters at the scene.
Officers had been waiting for ballistic vehicles to arrive when the suspect’s vehicle began to drive away, Manley said. Authorities followed the vehicle, which stopped in a ditch on the side of the road. When members of the swat team approached, the suspect detonated a device. The blast knocked back one officer, while a second officer fired his weapon, Manley said.
The suspect in the four attacks was from the city of Pflugerville, 14 miles north of downtown Austin.
On Wednesday, a relative of Conditt released a statement on behalf of the family. An aunt of Conditt, who gave her name only as Shanee, said: “We are devastated and broken at the news that our family could be involved in such an awful way. We had no idea of the darkness that Mark must have been in. Our family is a normal family in every way.”
The authorities had previously announced that the family wanted to “express their condolences to the families of those that have been affected”.
The aunt later released the family statement to CNN. She said the family was trying to cope with “this terrible, terrible knowledge”. The statement continued: “We love, we pray, and we try to inspire and serve others. Right now our prayers are for those families that have lost loved ones, for those impacted in any way, and for the soul of our Mark. We are grieving and we are in shock.”
The bomber had previously evaded detection since the attacks began on 2 March when a package bomb exploded and killed a 39-year-old man, Anthony House. More attacks followed, including further package bombs that also killed a 17-year-old male, Draylen Mason, and a roadside device believed triggered by a tripwire. At least five people were injured in the series of attacks including 75-year-old Esperanza Herrera, who was seriously hurt.
A package sent from Austin and bound for Austin detonated on a conveyor belt at a FedEx warehouse near San Antonio at about 12.30am on Tuesday, slightly injuring a woman. Later on Tuesday, an unexploded package believed to have been shipped by the same person was discovered at a FedEx facility close to Austin-Bergstrom international airport, and turned over to law enforcement.
The two people killed were black, prompting community leaders to warn of hate attacks. Officials have yet to describe a motive.
Abbott said the suspect’s mobile phone pinged in several different locations; CCTV had captured footage of the suspect in blond wig and gloves posting packages at a FedEx on Sunday night.
Online postings indicate Conditt was homeschooled. He attended Austin Community College from 2010 to 2012, according to a college spokeswoman, but he did not graduate.
In posts dated from 2012, a blogger who identified himself as Mark Conditt of Pflugerville wrote that gay marriage should be illegal, called for the elimination of sex offender registrations, and argued in favor of the death penalty. He described his interests as cycling, tennis and listening to music. Of gay marriage, Conditt wrote: “Homosexuality is not natural. Just look at the male and female bodies. They are obviously designed to couple.”
While the relief in Austin was palpable on Wednesday, officials urged residents to remain vigilant.
Fred Milanowski, an agent with the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), said it was “hard to say” if the bombing suspect had acted alone, though he made all the devices.
On Wednesday morning, law enforcement officers were seen entering houses believed to be where Conditt and his parents lived, about half a mile apart near downtown Pflugerville.
Two of his housemates were detained on Wednesday morning, but were not named. One was questioned and released, one was still being questioned in the afternoon.
An American flag on the front porch of his parents’ neat two-storey house with cream-coloured clapboard fluttered in the breeze as a local police officer stood guard.
“We don’t have any information to believe that the family had any knowledge of these crimes,” David Fugitt, a detective with Austin police department’s homicide unit, told the Guardian.
“This family’s been very cooperative, they’ve gone above and beyond to answer any questions that we’ve had,” Fugitt said.
Tim Williams, a 55-year-old auto broker who lives a short walk away, said: “It’s scary. Something this big, this close, it puts everybody on edge. Pflugerville is a really quiet community, laid back, nothing ever goes on. Especially nothing of this magnitude.”
The case has spurred memories of the Montana-based domestic terrorist Ted Kaczynski, the so-called Unabomber, who killed three people and injured 23 others with package bombs over 17 years, starting in 1978. He was not arrested until 1996.
How the Austin bombings unfolded
By Jamiles Lartey
A package bomb, which was not sent through a commercial delivery service, explodes at an East Austin home, killing 39-year-old Anthony House. It is treated as an isolated incident.
Two more package bombs, similar to the first, detonate at East Austin homes. The second blast kills 17-year-old Draylen Mason and injures his mother. The third blast injures 75-year-old Esperanza Herrera. Police believe they may be dealing with a serial bomber.
Residents and investigators speculate that the bombs may be targeted at a specific network of black church and community leaders. House and Mason belonged to a shared social and church network, and the third bomb was placed two doors down from black woman also named Mason, but who was unrelated to Draylen Mason’s family.
After the police issue an alert, hundreds of reports of suspicious packages roll in.
Two white male cyclists are injured by a roadside bomb that police believe was detonated by a tripwire attached to a ‘for sale’ sign. Authorities fear the bomber may possess a level of skill and sophistication beyond what they previously believed.
In the early morning hours, a device detonates in a FedEx processing facility in Schertz, Texas, near San Antonio. One woman is injured. Several hours later, another suspicious package is deactivated by authorities who eventually trace both parcels to a customer at a FedEx store in Sunset Valley, part of the Austin metropolitan area.
After authorities identify and pursue the suspect in a vehicle to Round Rock, north of Austin, he detonates an explosive, the seventh known device, killing himself.