Austin Police Say Authorities Dealing With 'Serial Bomber,' Not Ruling Out Terrorism

Mar 19, 2018

Austin Police say a bombing that injured two people in Southwest Austin last night is similar to three package bombings in Austin this month. Interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said authorities are still conducting a sweep of the Travis Country neighborhood, though police are allowing reentry into the neighborhood from certain areas.

"We are clearly dealing with what we expect to be a serial bomber at this point, based on the similarities," Manley said at a press conference this morning, adding that authorities are not ruling out that the bombings are "domestic terrorism or hate-related."

Manley also confirmed that last night’s explosion was triggered by a tripwire, and that the two white males in their 20s had been walking along Dawn Song Drive when they triggered the explosive device. Both men were taken to St. David's South Austin Medical Center and are in good condition.

The three previous bombs were triggered by victims handling packages left on doorsteps. 

Manley said FBI and ATF specialists are analyzing the blast site and that additional technicians from the San Antonio and Houston police departments are en route to Austin to assist in the investigation. 

ATF Special Agent in Charge Fred Milanowski said the use of a trip wire in the bomb indicates an increased level of sophistication than the previous bombs and urged residents to stay vigilant.

"If they move that package, if they step on that trip wire, it's likely to detonate," he said.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs said the use of a tripwire alters how the bombs are being investigated, changing it from “a more targeted approach to a more random approach.”

“The bomber has shown his ability to change the way he constructs these devices," Combs told KUT. "So, he could change it right now, and that’s why we don’t want to focus on just one thing to be careful of.”

Police are urging Austinites to exercise caution around any package, backpack or bag that may seem suspicious or out of place. Residents should call 911 immediately and not approach anything they find suspicious.

“The last thing we want to have is another injury or another death in our community," Manley said.

The Austin Police Department is also asking residents of the Travis Country neighborhood who may have surveillance footage from last night to contact police at 512-974-5210.

Combs also called on the bomber to reach out to authorities. Manley did the same yesterday when announcing a $100,000 reward for any information that could lead to an arrest – that's in addition to a $15,000 reward being offered by Gov. Greg Abbott's office. 

Austin Mayor Steve Adler emphasized that the threat is not relegated to packages and reiterated that an “army” of law enforcement is in Austin working on this case.

“I have full confidence that they’re going to find out who is responsible for this and then stop it,” Adler said.

Gov. Greg Abbott said today that his office is allocating $265,500 for APD and the Texas Ranger Bomb Response Team to buy X-ray devices that would "provide clear visual evidence" for law enforcement responding to package-related calls.

“I want to ensure everyone in the Austin region and the entire state that Texas is committed to providing every resource necessary to make sure these crimes are solved as quickly as possible,” Abbott said in a statement.

Four bombings in Austin this month have killed two people – 39-year-old Anthony Stephan House and 17-year-old Draylen Mason – and injured four others.

On Saturday, Austin police arrested a man for allegedly making a bomb threat against a SXSW venue, but officials say they do not believe the suspect was connected to the package bombs.

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This is a developing story.