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Austin police: We believe we are dealing with a “serial bomber”

There's enough similarities between the bombs to lead investigators to believe they were made by the same person or group.

Austin’s police chief said Monday morning that they believe they’re dealing with a “serial bomber” after the Texas city was rattled Sunday night by the fourth blast in less than three weeks.

The latest explosion, which left two men with serious but non-life-threatening injuries, used what’s known as a trip-wire device, which is different in sophistication from the prior three bombs that were left on porches and detonated when opened. Despite that, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said there were enough similarities between the bombs to lead investigators to believe they were made by the same person or group.


“We are clearly dealing with what we see as a serial bomber,” Manley said in a morning press conference.

Authorities also see the more sophisticated trip-wire device as a clear escalation in tactics from the cruder package bombs delivered over the past few weeks.

“A trip wire doesn’t necessarily suggest a military background,” said Manley. “But it suggests that the suspect or suspects we are dealing with have a higher level of sophistication than we believed, as they’re changing their methods to a more difficult device.”

Before Sunday, authorities had been urging caution around handling package deliveries. Now they’re telling residents to be careful about where they walk, as a trip-wire device can be activated by simply stepping on a wire connected to the bomb. Earlier on Monday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler told AP that the citywide anxiety was “legitimate and real.”

“We’ve seen a significant change from what appeared to be three very targeted attacks to an attack that would have hit any random victim who walked by,” Manley said.

Unlike in the earlier explosions, the victims in the latest bombing were both white.

Sunday night’s bombing came just hours after Chief Manley made a televised appeal to the perpetrator (or perpetrators) of the earlier bombings, which killed two people and injured one.

“We hope this person or persons is watching and will reach out to us before anyone else is injured or anyone else is killed,” Manley said. “We assure you, we are listening and we want to understand what brought you to this point, and we want to listen to you, so please call us.”


What we know about the latest bombing

Around 8:30 p.m. in Travis Country, a residential neighborhood in southwest Austin, two white men in their early twenties were walking along the side of the road when they or something else triggered a explosive device left by the road. They both suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries. Manley asked residents of the area to stay indoors on Monday morning.

Sunday’s bombing coincided with the final day of Austin’s citywide South by Southwest festival, which started on March 9.

The Roots were scheduled to play Sunday, but the show was cancelled after Austin police learned of a bomb threat. They subsequently arrested Trevor Weldon Ingram, 26, who was charged with making a terroristic threat, a felony. “There are no indications of any broader security concern for any activities relating to this incident,” Austin police wrote in a statement. They said Ingram was not a suspect in the earlier package bombs.

There are 500 federal agents, from the FBI or Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco, currently assisting the investigation. Chief Manley said Sunday that they’d increased the combined reward for information leading to arrest and conviction in the case from $65,000 to $115,000. They are also urging residents in the Travis Country neighborhood to turn in any surveillance footage they have of the area.

What we still don’t know

Was it the same person or group? Probably.

Speaking at a press conference at 11:00 a.m. Monday, Police Chief Manley said that based on preliminary evidence, they think the latest bomb was made by the same person or group who made the earlier bombs. The key difference was that the most recent bomb was designed to detonate with a trip wire, whereas the first three were essentially pipe bombs concealed in delivery boxes designed to detonate upon opening.


“We believe a trip wire was used in this device,” said Manley. “We are now dealing with someone using a higher level of sophistication and higher level of skill.”

Fred Milanowski, the special agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco in charge of Houston, said he thinks the same person built the first three devices.

Why are they doing this?

The fact that the victims of the first three blasts were black or Hispanic had initially fueled theories that the bombings could be racially motivated. The NAACP reached out to Austin community members urging caution, and law enforcement said they were not ruling out the possibility that the explosions were hate crimes. The families of the two black victims reportedly knew each other and are active in Austin’s African-American community.

“Is it domestic terrorism? Is it hate-related? We’re early on in the investigation,” said Manley on Monday. “As the day moves on, that’s something we’re going to be looking at.”

Manley added that they were going to examine whether there was a particular ideology behind the attacks.

A timeline of terror

March 2, 6:55 a.m., Harris Ridge, North Austin

Anthony Stephan House, 39, opened a delivery box containing a pipe bomb, and it detonated. He later died from his injuries at the hospital. House, who was black, worked at Texas Quarries and had a young daughter. Authorities said the package appeared to have been hand-delivered.


March 12, 6:44 a.m., East MLK, East Austin

Draylen Mason, 17, was killed opening another delivery box containing a pipe bomb. Mason, also black, played stand-up bass in an orchestra and was trying to decide between pursuing a career as a neurosurgeon or a composer.His mother, Shamika Wilson, was also injured with non-life threatening injuries. Neighbors told CNN that they saw Mason’s mother standing in the yard covering her face with her hands, partially naked after the blast ripped off her clothes.

March 12, 11:50 a.m., Montopolis, southeast Austin (a few miles from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport)

Esperanza Herrera, a 75-year-old Hispanic woman, was badly injured after opening yet another package bomb. Her mother, Maria Moreno, also suffered minor injuries.

March 18, 8:30 p.m., Travis County, southwest Austin

Two men riding bicycles were seriously wounded after they (or something else) triggered a tripwire bomb.