AUSTIN, Texas ― Austin police on Tuesday evening responded in full force to an incident on the city’s south side, initially fearing another in a series of bombings that have rocked the Texas capital in the past couple of weeks.
But the Austin Police Department said later in the evening that the detonation at a Goodwill in South Austin was not caused by a package bomb but rather an “incendiary device,” and the event likely wasn’t connected to this month’s series of bombings.
“This was not an explosive device,” Ely Reyes, the assistant chief of police, said at a media briefing late Tuesday. “There’s no reason to believe that it is related to any of the other incidents that occurred ... and no reason to believe this was an attempt at a copycat [attack].”
Reyes said an unnamed worker was told to dispose of a box of donated items. The worker later opened the package and discovered two “small devices” that appeared to be some type of “artillery simulators that looked like some type of military ordinance or memento.”
When the worker picked up one of the devices, it detonated in his hand, causing an injury. Reyes said the person was taken to a hospital and was “doing well and recovering.”
There was major police presence near the reported blast, and law enforcement asked residents to avoid the area.
Jerry Davis, the CEO of Goodwill Central Texas, went to the scene Tuesday night and said a device of some sort detonated at the store after being found inside a donation box.
“Someone donated a bomb to us today,” he told HuffPost, before authorities confirmed the box didn’t contain a package bomb.
Davis said the unnamed victim had been taken to a hospital, and local news outlets said he had been released from care later on Tuesday evening. A manager at the store, who asked to remain anonymous, said the worker’s hands were burned.
“He picked up the device and walked out with it because it didn’t make him comfortable,” the manager said. “It blew up in his hands.”
The comments come amid heightened tensions across the region after a string of explosions in Austin and nearby Texas cities in recent weeks.
The bombing series that has terrorized Austin started on March 2. The first three attacks involved packages left at the front of residences that exploded after the unsuspecting victims handled them. An attack Sunday injured two men who set off a tripwire on a sidewalk in a suburban neighborhood.
Earlier on Tuesday, a package exploded at a FedEx sorting facility in Schertz, Texas, near San Antonio, as it was moving along a conveyor belt, the city’s police chief confirmed. Later in the day, police responded to another suspicious package containing an explosive in a FedEx facility outside the Austin airport.
Police said they believed that both of the packages discovered Tuesday during the day were linked to four earlier bombings.
Law enforcement officials said initially that they were investigating the bombings as possible hate crimes after the first attacks struck people of color. But the fourth bombing Sunday night injured two white, non-Latino men in a predominantly white neighborhood, casting doubt on that theory.
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley told reporters at a news conference Monday morning that authorities are not ruling out “domestic terrorism.”