AUSTIN, Texas — The suspected Austin bomber is dead this morning after he reportedly detonated an explosive device inside his vehicle as a Texas SWAT team closed in, authorities said in a news conference Wednesday morning.
The man, identified by police as Mark Anthony Conditt, became a person of interest within the past 24 to 36 hours, officers said.
According to CNN, one of the things investigators noticed was that all of the bombs were being made from the same common household ingredients. That’s when they hit the area’s stores, scanning receipts and looking for clues.
“Agents fanned out throughout the city of Austin going to big box retail stores as well as locally owned stores trying to determine whether or not there were suspicious purchases,” Tony Plohetski, an investigative reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, told CNN’s “New Day.” They were “going through receipts and going through sales records from those stores.”
That worked. Plohetski said the search of the receipts provided investigators with “critical evidence.”
They now had a person of interest. Federal search warrants were then used to get the man’s IP address, which showed that he’d been making “suspicious” Google searches, Plohetski said.
Police also developed a sketch of the suspect from witness interviews.
But the big break came when the suspect went to a FedEx store in south Austin and shipped an explosive device — and the whole thing was captured on security video.
“Police say that they used that as the final piece to put all of this together, really in the past 24 hours,” Plohetski said.
Soon, they became “very confident” this was their guy and surveillance teams were deployed to track him down.
Late Tuesday night they used cell phone technology to track Conditt to the Red Roof Inn in Round Rock, about 20 miles north of Austin. Multiple officers from the police department and their federal partners took up position around the building, waiting for backup.
“(We were) awaiting the arrival of our tactical teams because we wanted to have ballistic vehicles here so we could attempt to take this suspect into custody as safely as possible,” Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said in a news conference early Wednesday.
But before they arrived, the suspect got into his vehicle and left.
Police followed him as he drove on the service road along I-35, whizzing by the various restaurants, gas stations and hotels. The suspect pulled over on the side of the road and detonated the device as the Austin Police Department SWAT team approached.
At least one officer sustained injuries. Another was placed on administrative duty after firing a shot at the suspect.
Despite the events, officers urged residents of Austin and surrounding communities to remain vigilant, saying they have no idea where the suspect has been over the past 24 hours. It’s unclear if he had any other devices stored at another location or was able to send any other packages.
The Texas Rangers will be conducting an investigation into the events that unfolded to make sure procedure was followed.
The incident has left a Texas interstate shut down as agents with the FBI, Austin Police Department and ATF investigate.
The news comes just hours after officers released surveillance video from a South Austin FedEx Office store that showed the suspect dropping off a package. This was a key piece of evidence that helped them zero in on a person of interest.
It’s also believed to be the same man who was killed early Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday, a bomb inside a package exploded around 1 a.m. as it passed along a conveyer belt at a FedEx shipping center in Schertz, northeast of San Antonio and about 60 miles (95 kilometers) southwest of Austin. One worker reported ringing in her ears and was treated at the scene.
Local and federal authorities confirmed that blast was related to four others since March 2.
Later in the morning, police sent a bomb squad to a FedEx facility outside the Austin airport to check on a suspicious package. Federal agencies and police later said that package had indeed contained an explosive that was successfully intercepted and that it, too, was tied to the other bombings.
Authorities also closed off an Austin-area FedEx store where they believe the bomb that exploded in Schertz was shipped. They roped off a large area around the shopping center in the enclave of Sunset Valley and were collecting evidence.
This is the same store where authorities reportedly located the surveillance video.
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican from Austin who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said that investigators have obtained surveillance videos that “could possibly” show a suspect.
“I hope his biggest mistake was going through FedEx,” McCaul, who has spoken to federal investigators and Austin police Chief Brian Manley, said of the bomber in a phone interview.
He added that the person responsible for the bombings had previously been “very sophisticated in going around surveillance cameras.”
“They’ve got a couple of videos that could possibly be the person but they’re not sure at this point,” McCaul said.
Before it exploded, the package had been sent from Austin and was addressed to a home in Austin, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said.
In a statement, FedEx officials said the same person responsible for sending the package also shipped a second parcel that has been secured and turned over to law enforcement. A company spokeswoman refused to say if that second package might have been linked to the one reported at the distribution center near the airport.
The Schertz blast came two days after a bombing wounded two men Sunday night in a quiet Austin neighborhood about 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the FedEx store. It was triggered by a nearly invisible tripwire, suggesting a “higher level of sophistication” than agents saw in three package bombs previously left on doorsteps, according to Fred Milanowski, the agent in charge of the Houston division of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Authorities have not identified the two men who were hurt Sunday, saying only that they are in their 20s. But William Grote told The Associated Press that his grandson was one of them and that he had what appeared to be nails embedded in his knees.
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