AUSTIN, Texas – After the first package exploded at a Austin door, the police assured the public that there was no wider threat, no signs of terrorism. The idea of a serial bomber is striking random strangers never came.
The March 2 blast killed Anthony Stephan House, a 39-year-old man with a background in finance, and an 8-year-old daughter. The researchers did not rule out that House may have been abused homemade explosives.
Hours later, in an interrogation room, detectives told one of the neighbor’s House, their main theory: The deadly package is retribution, perhaps from a drug cartel, in a raid days earlier, seized more than $300,000, and 30 pounds of pot. The cartel just the wrong address.
“They say, ‘Who is trying to blow you?’ They are trying to do, the whole thing, ‘help us Help you, because they are not going to miss out again,'” said Mark McCrimmon, an Austin lawyer who represents the neighbor.
It would not be the last mass lead in the three weeks of searching, which eventually led to Mark Anthony Conditt, an unemployed community college dropout who blew himself on Wednesday as officers closed in.
The manhunt intensified after more explosions in the weeks that followed House of the dead. By the time that the suspect also was dead, his bombs had killed two people, badly wound four others and cold-blooded the capital of Texas.
On Thursday, authorities gave no indication they were closer to understanding why Conditt did it. Austin police chief Brian Manley said the bomber left behind a 25-minute mobile recording that amounted to a confession, but has no apparent motive.
It is a latest mystery in a case that the police had difficulty to crack. More than 500 federal agents swarmed Austin in what Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, called the nation’s largest bombing raid since 2013 the Boston Marathon attacks.
The path to Conditt many dead ends of more than 500 called-tips. There were theories that do not pan out and security camera’s that failed to catch a glimpse of the suspect.
“They have a lot of calls,” McCaul said of researchers, “but not a lot of credible leads.”
Early miscalculation stoked frustration in the areas where the second and third bombing was on 12 March.
Because the police initially believed, the House of the dead was an isolated attack, they do not warn Austin residents about suspicious deliveries for another package killed 17-year-old Draylen Mason and wounded his mother. Mason and House were both in black and in connection with prominent Austin families, which led police to consider whether they were dealing with a hate crime.
“They did not take into account all of the alternatives, and it came back to bite us,” said Nelson Linder, president of the Austin chapter of the NAACP.
When the third bomb injured a 75-year-old Spanish woman, researchers wondered whether it was actually meant for a neighbor, Erica Mason, who has the same last name as the slain teen.
Erica Mason, who is white, said she told the police they had no connection with Draylen Mason’s family. The police now think the shared name was just a coincidence.
Even after three bombings, researchers were still unsure whether they were dealing with a single attacker. “We are not calling it a serial bomber,” Manley told reporters on 12 March.
A week later, they were.
The police urged the residents to report any strange packages. The warning flooded 911 operators with more than 1,000 calls. Six days after Mason’s death, the government raised the pot of reward money to $115,000 and tried a new tactic for signs of the bomber: a press conference, that a direct appeal for him to get in contact. Hours later, another explosion appeared to be in his answer.
The fourth explosion caused by a tripwire linked to a “children playing” sign that Conditt purchased at Home Depot, was the first in the city’s more affluent west side. The new location gedempte oude theories about who the bomber was targeted.
After a fifth explosion Monday at a FedEx processing outside of San Antonio, authorities finally had their big breakthrough.
Conditt was careful to avoid cameras for the entry of a FedEx store in the southwest of Austin disguised in a blond wig and gloves, said McCaul, who called it the bomber “fatal error.”
Supervision in the store also captured the number plate linked to Conditt, who in turn gave the government a mobile number they could track.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said that the police were able to check Conditt and his movements for about 24 hours before his death. The mobile phone number bound Conditt to bomb sites in the vicinity of Austin, but McCaul said Conditt had eluded authorities by powering off the phone for the long haul.
Tuesday night, police began to Conditt’s house in a suburb of Pflugerville. They finally found him early Wednesday in a hotel north of Austin, and the officials prepared to move for an arrest. When the suspect’s sport utility vehicle began to drive away, she followed.
Conditt drove into a ditch on the side of the road, and the SWAT officers approached, banging on his window. That is when he ended his life by setting off one of his own equipment in the vehicle.
The police found him, because he turned his phone back on, McCaul said.
“He put it on. It pinged, and then the chase ensued,” he said.
Associated Press Writer Sadie Gurman in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber.