Southwest Austin Explosion: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

austin explosions

Twitter Austin Police Chief Brian Manley and other officials speak at a press conference on Sunday.

Two men were injured in an explosion Sunday night in Southwest Austin that investigators believe was set off by a trip wire, officials say. The latest explosion comes after three other blasts this month that left two dead and two injured. The previous explosions were the result of package bombs and police have been searching for the bomber or bombers.

“We are clearly dealing with what we expect to be a serial bomber at this point,” Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said Monday morning at a press briefing. “We have seen similarities in the device that exploded here last night and the other three devices that have exploded in Austin starting March 2. This is preliminary information, but we have seen similarities. The big difference in this device is we believe a trip wire was used in this device.”

According to Austin EMS, two men in their 20s were taken to the hospital with serious but not life-threatening injuries after the explosion Sunday night at a house in the 4800 block of Dawn Song Drive in the Travis Country area. The men, ages 22 and 23, had significant injuries, but they are expected to survive, police say. They were walking down the the side of the road when the explosion occurred, according to police. They remained hospitalized Monday morning in stable condition.

The first explosion happened about 6:55 a.m. on March 2 in the 1100 block of Haverford Drive, police said. A 39-year-old man, Anthony Stephan House, was killed. The second explosion occurred on March 12 about 6:45 a.m. in the 4800 block of Oldfort Hill Drive. That blast killed a 17-year-old boy, Draylen Mason, and sent Mason’s mother to the hospital with serious injuries. The third blast happened about 11:50 a.m. in the 6700 block of Galindo Street. A 75-year-old woman was taken to the hospital with serious injuries, but survived.

The Austin Police Department, the FBI, the ATF and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service are investigating, along state authorities. A joint task force has been set up.

There have been fears in the community that African Americans are being targeted by the bomber or bombers, but police say they have not determined a motive for the attacks. All of the victims have been either black or Hispanic. The two victims on Sunday in the fourth bombing were white.

“That’s been the question all along,” Manley said Monday after being asked when the case would be called domestic terrorism. “Is this terrorism? Is this hate related? And we’re early on in the investigation today, we’ve only gotten into the preliminary phases and as the day goes on, that is something we are going to try to analyze. … As we look at this individual and the pattern, we will have to determine if we see a specific ideology behind this or something that will lead us along with our federal partners to make that decision.”

Manley added, “We were not willing to classify this as terrorism, as hate, because we just don’t know enough. And what we have seen now is a significant change from what appeared to be three very targeted attacks to what last night was an attack that would have hit a random victim that happened to walk by.”

The fourth bombing was also in a different part of Austin from the first three, Manley said.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Police Say the Apparent Use of a Trip Wire Shows a ‘Higher Level’ of ‘Skill’ & ‘Sophistication’ From the Bomber

First responders were called to the scene of the explosion about 8:30 p.m., police said. According to Fox 7, witnesses heard a loud bang. According to KVUE-TV, one of the victims appeared to have nails in his leg:

“We have made the scene safe this morning,” Police Chief Brian Manley said at an 11 a.m. press briefing. “We held the scene last night given that it was dark and that we believe a trip wire may have been in effect on that device. Given the safety concerns that gave us not only for this neighborhood but for all of the public safety professionals that are here working this, we held the scene overnight so that we can process it in daylight in a much safer way.”

The area was swept for additional devices Monday morning, but none were found, Manley said. Specialists from the ATF and the FBI were at the scene Monday to conduct “post-blast investigation.”

Manley said additional resources are being brought to Austin to assist, including bomb technicians from San Antonio and Houston and the Texas Department of Public Safety is also assisting. Over 500 agents and their teams are working in Austin from federal agencies, Manley said. Additional agents are en route to the city.

Manley said, “There’s still a significant amount of evidence, as you can imagine with a blast scene like this, the evidence is strewn across a quite a significant distance and it’s going to take us a while to methodically go through and collect this evidence so that we get it right.”

He also gave an updated safety message to Austin residents.

“In the past we’ve been talking about the importance of not touching suspicious packages, not moving packages, not handling packages. The belief that we are now dealing with someone who is using trip wires shows a higher level of sophistication, a higher level of skill, so now what we are imploring the community to do is if you see any suspicious object or item that looks out of place, do not even approach it, but instead call 911 and report that to the police department so that we can send out folks to check that and ensure that it is safe,” Manley said. “Again, do not approach these suspicious items, anything you see, whether it be a bag, a backpack, a box, this is why we have avoided giving specific descriptions of the prior three devices because it was never confirmed that would be the design that this suspect or suspects would stick with.”

Frederick Milanowski, the special agent in charge of the ATF’s Houston field office, said Monday morning, “This device is a little more sophisticated from what we have seen to date. Trip wire is a victim actuated switch. It literally uses some kind of wire and when there is pressure is put on that wire it activates or detonates the device. So it can be either from tripping or if it or picking up the package, any tension that is put on that wire, sometimes it’s thin filament, sometimes it’s fishing line, but like the chief, said we are even more concerned now that if people see something suspicious that they just stay away from it altogether and contact law enforcement, because if they move that package or step on that trip wire, it’s likely to detonate.”

Milanowski said the evidence from the previous devices are at the ATF’s national laboratory and the evidence from the fourth device will also be sent there.

Christopher Combs, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Antonio field office, said Monday they have made an “unprecedented response to Austin” to support the local law enforcement.

“With this trip wire, this changes things,” Combs said. “It’s more sophisticated, it’s not targeted to individuals, we are very concerned that with trip wires a child can be walking down the sidewalk and hit something, it is very important that here in Austin, if anyone sees anything suspicious, do not go near that package and immediately call law enforcement.”

Manley said the victims are still receiving care in the hospital, but investigators did have initial conversations with them to get an idea of where the device was.

“The device was sitting next to a fence,” Manley said. “The trip wire can be a filament wire, it can be fishing line, it can be a metal wire, so that’s why people just need to pay attention to see if there is a device that is seeded somewhere near, because the trip wire would be attached to the device and it would pull on it to activate.”

Manley said the victims were walking along a roadway on the sidewalk or the grassy area between the street and the fence.

2. Police Closed Down the Neighborhood Where the 4th Explosion Occurred for Several Hours & Have Asked Residents to Stay Inside

Austin Police tweeted, “APD responding to Bomb Hotshot call in the 4800 block of Dawn Song Dr. Two male patients transported with unknown injuries. Please avoid the area.”

Hotshot is a term Austin Police use for high-priority calls.

Police added, “Residents in immediate area of 4800 Dawn Song Dr., wait in your homes and follow instructions of officers if/when given.” Police said Monday afternoon, “Residents in the Travis Country Subdivision need to remain in their residence until further notice. The area is safe, but still needs to be processed.”

He said the neighborhood was expected to remain on lockdown until about 2 p.m. out of an overabundance of caution.

“What we have right now is a scene where it is obvious that an explosion has taken place, we have two victims that have been transported to the hospital with what we understand right now are non-life-threatening injuries,” Police Chief Brian Manley told reporters Sunday night. “The important message we want to put out now is the safety alert for this neighborhood, that we want everyone within a half mile radius of this intersection of Dawn Song Drive and Republic of Texas … to stay inside your homes until we have had a chance to deem this neighborhood safe. And that will not be until at minimum until daylight because of the darkness and the size of the area that we want to go in and check to make sure, again, that this neighborhood is safe.”

Manley added, “We want to put out the message that we have been putting out, not only do not touch any packages or any thing that looks like a package, do not even go near it at this time, because given the darkness, we have not really had the opportunity to look at this blast site to determine what has happened. But it is obvious that it is an explosion. It is obvious that it has caused significant injuries to two people.”

Police also asked anyone who saw anything suspicious Sunday night to report it to them by calling 911.

“If you have video surveillance on your house, whether it be surveillance cameras, Nest cameras, anything like that, we want to get your video footage so that we can have that analyzed and identify any suspicious persons, vehicles or anything that may be of interest to this investigation,” Manley said, speaking to residents of Travis Country. “Please contact us at 512-974-5210 so we can get in there quickly and get that video.”

Manley said Monday, “This has to be a community response. This is something we are going to solve as a community. The officers that are working the neighborhoods are paying attention not only for the suspicious packages but also for items that may look out of place. The Department of Public Safety is going to send additional troopers into Austin to help us patrol and be visible and look for those suspicious items or just to inform the community of where we are at.”

3. The Latest Explosion Occurred Hours After Authorities Announced the Reward for Information in the Bombing Case Had Been Increased to $115,000

Earlier Sunday, the reward for information about the three bombings was increased to $115,000. After the most recent bombing, the FBI pleaded with anyone with information to come forward.

“We need this to stop, we’re very concerned that people can get hurt by this just by walking now, we have trip wires. $100,000 is a lot of money. So I’m hoping that someone knows something that they can call us and help us stop what’s going on here,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs said.

“We believe that the recent explosive incidents that have occurred in the city of Austin were meant to send a message,” Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said Sunday, hours before the latest emergency call to rattle the city. “The person or persons understands what that message is and are responsible for constructing or delivering the devices and we hope this person or persons is watching and will reach out to us before anyone else is injured or anyone else is killed out of this event.”

Manley said Sunday, “These events in Austin have garnered worldwide attention and we assure you that we are listening. We want to understand what brought you to this point and we want to listen to you.”

Austin Police are being assisted by the FBI, the ATF and state law enforcement authorities. According to police, they have responded to 735 calls of suspicious packages since the explosion. Investigators have received 435 leads and have interviewed 236 people.

It is not clear if any actual devices were located during the suspicious package calls.

“If you receive a package that you are not expecting or looks suspicious, DO NOT open it, call 911 immediately,” Police Chief Brian Manley tweeted.

Manley said they are “box-type deliveries,” and the three bombs have been in cardboard, but he said they do not want to limit it to just those, saying, “if you receive a suspicious package, then call us and let us come out, because a device like this can be hidden in many different ways.”

Manley would not provide specific details about the packages and devices because of the ongoing investigation. The person delivering the packages has not been ringing the door bell of the homes where the blasts occurred, Manley said. The residents have come outside and found the packages.

“We have an individual who has the ability to construct these bombs and to have them successfully detonate and cause, what we’ve seen so far, serious injury and loss of life,” Manley said. “We are not calling it a serial bomber, but we have a pattern of instances that have occurred in the community that we’re very concerned about and that we have brought all of the resources as possible to bear. There is no stone that will be left unturned.”

He said there is a “certain level of skill required” to put together the devices. Police do not have any suspect information to release, including physical or vehicle descriptions.

Manley added at a press conference, “if the package looks suspicious in any way, call 911. Report it. We will respond. It may take awhile to get there because we are getting several calls, but we have had all of our law enforcement partners join us in this effort. We have explosive and K-9 teams joining us from the ATF, from the Department of Public Safety and we are pulling resources from other Austin areas as well, because we want to ensure this community that we’re going to do everything we can to keep you safe while this investigation is ongoing up until that time that we conclude it with an arrest. And we don’t know at this point what that timeline looks like.”

austin bombings

This map shows the three locations of the bombings.

The packages that exploded in the three previous incidents were not sent through the U.S. Postal Service and appear to have been dropped off at the home, Manley said. Private carriers, like UPS and FedEx, also told police that they have no record of deliveries to either of the homes.

Anyone with information is asked to submit tips to Texas Crime Stoppers. Tips can be made by calling 1-800-252-TIPS (8477), by texting the letters DPS followed by the tip to 274637 (CRIMES), through the Crime Stoppers’ website or through the DPS mobile app.

“We are imploring the community, if you know anything about these attacks, it is imperative that you come forward and that you let us know. We are having innocent people being hurt across this community and it is important that we come together as a community and solve this,” Manley said.

4. The Previous 3 Explosions Occurred at Homes Where Residents Picked up Packages That Had Been Dropped Off, but Not by Mail or Delivery Services

austin package explosions, austin explosions

Austin PoliceAustin Police Chief Brian Manley walks with FBI agents at the scene of one of three package explosions in the Texas city.

Anthony Stephan House, 39, was killed in the first explosion on March 2 in the 1100 block of Haverford Drive. The blast occurred about 6:55 a.m. Police Chief Brian Manley said the device was “powerful” and caused significant damage to the front porch area of the home.

“Right now we are trying to determine how did the package get there and who was the intended target,” Assistant Police Chief Joseph Chacon said on March 5, after House’s name was released. “We do feel like this was targeted at somebody.”

House was rushed to the hospital, where he died.

“That case was being investigated as a suspicious death,” Police Chief Brian Manley said on March 12. “It is now being reclassified and is now a homicide investigation as well. We are looking at these incidents as being related based on similarities that we have seen and the initial evidence that we have on hand here today compared to what we found on the scene of that explosion that took place a week back.”

The second explosion occurred on March 12 about 6:45 a.m. in the 4800 block of Oldfort Hill Drive, authorities said. It happened in a single-family house and appears to have been caused by a package that was placed on the porch. The explosion caused “significant” damage to the home, Police Chief Brian Manley said.

“What we understand at this point is that earlier this morning, one of the residents went out front, and there was a package on the front doorstep,” Manley said at a press conference. “They brought that package inside the residence and as they opened that package, both victims were in the kitchen and the package exploded causing the injuries that resulted in the young man’s death and the injuries to the adult female.”

The victims has been identified as 17-year-old Draylen Mason. His mother was injured.

“The United States Postal Service has reviewed its records and we do not believe at all that this was a delivery that came through the postal service,” Manley said. “The initial indication is that this was not a package that was delivered by any mail service. It was place on the front door step.”

Manley added, “The damage is significant, and there’s a lot of evidence that needs to be collected.”

He said the incident is, “very similar” to the March 2 incident. “That incident also occurred in the morning hours when the victim in that case went out front and found a package on their front steps that exploded, causing that individual’s death.”

Police said multiple 911 calls were made to report the third explosion, which sent the 75-year-old woman to the hospital with serious injuries that were feared to be life-threatening. Another woman, in her 80s, was evaluated at the scene, but was not injured in the blast, Austin-Travis County EMS said. The woman has not been identified.

The explosion occurred about 11:50 a.m., about an hour after police and the FBI held a briefing at the scene of the other March 12 explosion. Austin Police Chief Brian Manley and other officials left the first scene to head to the second, which was in the 6700 block of Galindo Street.

“Similar to the other two incidents … is that the victim in this incident came outside of her residence and found a package out front and she picked up the package and at that point the box detonated,” Manley said. “She was significantly injured in that explosion. We are praying and thinking of her and hoping for a recovery from this incident.”

The Galindo Street home is about 16 miles away from the Haverford Drive home where the first explosion occurred on March 2. It is about 6 miles away from the Oldfort Hill Drive home where the second explosion occurred.

5. The Two Victims Who Were Killed Are Connected by Family Ties, While the Woman Injured in the Third Bombing Was Possibly Not the Target

FacebookDraylen Mason and Anthony House.

Police believe the bombings are connected, but have not determined a motive. There are fears in Austin that the bomber is targeting members of the black community.

An African-American woman who lives near the house where the third bomb exploded was possibly mistaken to be a member of a prominent Austin family that has connections to the first two bombings, according to the Austin American Statesman. House is the son of Rev. Freddie Dixon, who is a close friend of Dr. Norman Mason, the grandfather of Draylen Mason. The woman whose house is near the third explosion has the last name Mason, but is not related to the family, the newspaper reports.

“They have a long history and go to the same church,” Nelson Linder the local NAACP chapter president, told NBC News about the House and Mason families.

Chief Brian Manley said, “We will not tolerate this in Austin,” adding that, “you have seen every stop will be pulled out… the federal agencies are with us to lend us a hand and to bring this to as quick as a resolution as possible.”

He also said, “We are looking at these incidents as being related based on similarities that we have seen and the initial evidence that we have on hand here,

Manley said that a possible motive is not yet known. But he did note that the victims in the first two explosions are black. The third victim is Hispanic, police said.

“We cannot rule out that hate crime is at the core of this, but we’re not saying that’s the cause as well,” he told reporters.

Manley added, “We do not yet know if the victims are the intended targets. (The package bombs) are being left at homes where there are either multiple residents or it might even be left at the wrong address. So that is part of the investigation that is going on now.” He said they are trying to determine what might be in common among the victims.

Anyone with information is asked to submit tips to Texas Crime Stoppers. Tips can be made by calling 1-800-252-TIPS (8477), by texting the letters DPS followed by the tip to 274637 (CRIMES), through the Crime Stoppers’ website or through the DPS mobile app.

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