Police investigate fourth Austin bombing this month

Austin interim Police Chief Brian Manley speaks at a press conference near the East Austin home of 75-year-old Esperanza Herrera, injured in a bomb blast on March 12, 2018. Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

by Alex SamuelsTexas Tribune

Two more Austin residents were injured Sunday evening in an apparent bombing, local police confirmed Monday. This marks the latest in a series of explosions that has kept Texas’ capital city on edge.

An apparent fourth bombing in Austin on Sunday night has placed Texas’ capital city even more on edge, with two more residents injured and police describing what could be a new method used to set off the most recent explosion.

In a press conference before sunrise Monday morning, interim Police Chief Brian Manley said a tripwire mechanism might have been used in the most recent blast. And the most recent explosion occurred in a different area of the city — southwest Austin instead of East Austin like the three prior bombings.

Manley urged residents to be even more cautious than they have before.

“It is very possible that this device was activated by someone either handling, kicking or coming in contact with a tripwire that activated the device,” Manley said

He said the explosive device appeared to be a package left on the side of the road in a residential neighborhood and the people injured were walking or pushing their bikes when it went off. He said investigators were waiting until the sun came up to process the scene, and that they’d know more soon after that happened.

“That changes things,” he added. “Our safety message to this point has been involving the handling of packages, and telling this community ‘Do not handle packages, do not pick up packages, do not disturb packages.’ We now need to have an extra level of vigilance and pay attention to any suspicious device, whether it be a package, a bag, a backpack, anything that looks out of place.”

Police said that while the two men injured in Sunday’s blast — who are both in their 20s — were seriously hurt, their injuries aren’t considered life-threatening. It is the fourth such bombing in the last month in Austin. While Sunday’s incident was in southwest Austin, the three previous explosions, which killed two people and injured two others, occurred in the East Austin area which has historically been home to black and Hispanic residents. 

The two people killed — 39-year-old Anthony Stephan House and 17-year-old Draylen Mason, 17 — died on March 2 and March 12, respectively, after receiving similar explosive devices. Mason’s mother was also injured, but police confirmed she’s in stable condition.

Hours after the explosion that killed Mason, 75-year-old Esperanza Herrera also received a exploding package bomb. She was seriously injured but is expected to survive. 

Austin police believe the previous attacks were related, leading some in the city to fear they were being targeted by an unknown bomber. Both House and Mason had relatives who were prominent members of the African-American community. Police have also said it’s possible these attacks are hate crimes because all those targeted have been black or Hispanic. Police have not released the race of Sunday night’s victims.

Local police, as well the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, are working to find those responsible. Dallas, Houston and Austin authorities — as well as statewide officials — are advising Texans not to open packages they weren’t expecting.

On Sunday, Manley announced a reward of $100,000 for information leading to the arrest of the person or people responsible. Gov. Greg Abbott previously said that the Office of the Governor’s Criminal Justice Division is offering an additional $15,000.

“First and foremost, Cecilia and I offer our thoughts and prayers to the victims of these atrocious attacks,” Abbott said. “I want to assure all Texans, and especially those in Austin, that local, state and federal law enforcement officials are working diligently to find those responsible for these heinous crimes.”

Talk to us: With a fourth bombing reported in Austin over the weekend, we’re interested in learning how residents are using technology to follow this story. Have you used apps like Nextdoor, Nest or Ring to track or report suspicious activities or communicate with neighbors? We’d like to talk to you. Email Alex Samuels at asamuels@texastribune.org.

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