NEWS
21/03/2018 9:04 PM AEDT | Updated 22/03/2018 2:30 PM AEDT

Suspected Austin Bomber Dead In Confrontation With Police

The 23-year-old man detonated a bomb in his own car.

  • The bomber died Wednesday morning after a device exploded in his car during a confrontation with police

  • Police identified the bomber as 23-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt of Pflugerville, Texas

  • Investigators were working to determine whether he acted alone or if he had accomplices

  • Authorities said the bomber left a 25-minute confession

AUSTIN, Texas ― The man suspected of setting off a series of homemade bombs in the Austin area this month, killing two people and terrorizing the city, died early Wednesday in a confrontation with police, authorities said.

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said officers had been pursuing the man when he detonated an explosive device in his car, killing himself and injuring one officer. An officer shot at the vehicle, Manley said. 

Law enforcement officials have identified the man as 23-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt from the Austin suburb of Pflugerville. Police previously identified him as being 24. 

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Mark Conditt, 23, has been identified as the bombing suspect killed in Wednesday morning's explosion in Texas.

Officers located Conditt’s car at a hotel and called in a technical team for backup. But the suspect drove away from the hotel before the team arrived, and officers followed. The suspect then pulled over and detonated the explosive device.

Officials were able to track down the suspect thanks to video footage and witness testimony, Manley said. But police still don’t have any understanding of the man’s motive, or whether he had help. They also don’t know whether he was on his way to deliver the bomb that eventually exploded in his car.

The suspect had been on the police’s radar for weeks but only became the primary person of interest in the 36 hours leading up to his death, Manley said.

Authorities said Wednesday they found a 25-minute “confession” from the Conditt, although they didn’t release the contents of the recording.

Late Tuesday night, just before law enforcement closed in on the suspect at a hotel, authorities said they filed a federal criminal complaint and arrest warrant for Conditt. The complaint, which remained sealed as of Wednesday, charged him with one count of unlawful possession and transfer of a destructive device.

A motive for the deadly attacks is currently unknown.

The suspect’s family has expressed surprise over his alleged ties to the bombings.

“He’s from a family that is so tight, that works so hard to raise their children correctly. It’s just horrible,” Conditt’s grandmother, Mary Conditt, told CNN.

In a statement released through a family friend, the Conditt family said they were shocked by “these heinous actions” and said they were cooperating with the police.

“The family is grieved not only for their loss but also for the loss of those affected by these heinous actions,” the friend, Eddie Harp, read from a statement outside the Conditts’ home on Wednesday.

An aunt of his, who only supplied her first name of Shanee, told the network that her family was “grieving” and “in shock.”

“We had no idea of the darkness that Mark must have been in. Our family is a normal family in every way,” she said. “We love, we pray, and we try to inspire and serve others. Right now our prayers are for those families that have lost loved ones, for those impacted in any way, and for the soul of our Mark.”

Neighbors of Conditt’s parents have echoed that surprise and disbelief.

“It just makes no sense whatsoever, he was a nice kid,” neighbor Jeff Reeb, 75, told HuffPost. “He was quiet, sure, and young. But he was nice, normal as I could tell.”

Reeb said Conditt moved out of his parents’ home a few years ago and got his own place. But he visited regularly and had contact with his family. He was the oldest of four kids, with three younger sisters.

Reeb said he hadn’t spoken to Conditt’s parents yet.

“I wouldn’t know what to say,” he said.

He was quiet, sure, and young. But he was nice, normal as I could tell. Jeff Reeb

Reeb found out about the death when news cameras came to his quiet street in Pflugerville. “This is super unexpected,” he said. “I can’t believe it.”

Jeremiah Jensen, 24, who said he was close friends with Conditt during their high school years, described him to the Austin American-Statesman as a devout Christian who was athletic and liked to argue, making him appear “really rough around the edges.” Jensen said he and the suspect had attended church and Bible study together.

“I know faith was a serious thing for him,” he said.

“I don’t know if he held onto his faith or not,” Jensen added. “The kind of anger that he expressed and the kind of hate that he succumbed to — that’s not what he believed in in high school.”

On Wednesday morning, about a half mile away from Conditt’s parents’ home, Texas state troopers blocked the streets leading to the suspect’s house, also in Pflugerville. The property was surrounded by police, paramedic vehicles and agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Roque Planas/HuffPost
Law enforcement officers are seen blocking a street leading to the home of Mark Conditt.

Two of Conditt’s roommates were taken into custody by police for questioning. One of them has since been released. The other was still being questioned as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the Austin Police Department.

The individuals have not been publicly identified because they have not been arrested, authorities said.

Pflugerville residents were eventually ordered to evacuate the surrounding area, including parts of downtown. Authorities at the scene told HuffPost the evacuation was “out of an abundance of caution.”

Law enforcement worked to remove homemade explosives from the suspect’s home on Wednesday afternoon, according to a tweet from the FBI. 

Mark Roessler, who lives across from Conditt’s house, told HuffPost that around 9 a.m., he saw 10 agents with rifles appear to arrest a man outside of the property.

Roessler, who said he had spoken several times with Conditt and his father and toured the house, said he had never seen the man before. 

It’s not immediately clear whether that man was one of Conditt’s roommates. Local police and FBI officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

Few of Conditt’s immediate neighbors said they knew him personally, including people who had lived in the area for years.

Roque Planas/HuffPost
Mark Roessler, center, who lives across from Mark Conditt's house in Pflugerville, said he saw a man being taken into custody outside the home on Wednesday.

“No one here knows him,” said neighbor Jay Schulze, 42, who has lived in the area for 12 years.

“I’ve seen him out there, just judging from the picture from the FedEx office,” Schulze added, referencing a surveillance video that authorities said captured the suspect mailing a package while wearing a wig and baseball cap.

Conditt moved into a dilapidated house on the block more than a year ago, according to two neighbors. The only time they saw him was when he was outside renovating it with his father.

“They were treating it like a father-and-son bonding thing,” Roessler said of the project.

“It was barely standing,” Hector Del Valle, a neighbor who had to leave his house so authorities could proceed with the investigation, told HuffPost of the property. “It was kind of an eyesore when I first moved here. ... I would see them working late into the night. ... Tall, lanky, white kid. But quiet, he kept to himself.”

Debbie Alexander, who has lived in the area almost 20 years, said she had seen Conditt maybe a dozen times. She said she never spoke to him, even though she takes pride in meeting her neighbors. “We would wave,” she said. “He was kind of standoffish.”

Conditt’s Google search history showed that he had been looking up other addresses in Austin and the surrounding area, the Austin American-Statesman reported Tuesday, citing a law enforcement official.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) told Fox News on Wednesday morning that authorities were still sifting through the evidence to determine why and how this all happened.

“We’re trying to piece together why is it that someone like this would go on this effort,” Abbott said. “We don’t know if it was a political manifesto, or some other anger about some people or whether he really just wanted to stoke terrorism.”

Abbott said Conditt was unemployed, and didn’t have a criminal history or a military background.

“We don’t know how he gained the skill set to build these bombs,” he said.

Drew Anthony Smith via Getty Images
Police barricade the area surrounding the home of suspected Austin bomber Mark Anthony Conditt in Pflugerville, Texas.

Conditt had worked in sales and purchasing for Crux Manufacturing, a small engineering shop located in Austin, until August. He was let go at the time for not meeting expectations, an employee told local station KVUE.

Conditt was described by the employee there as “quiet, introverted and reserved.”

Six bombing incidents in March ― five in Austin and another at a FedEx center near San Antonio ― have kept officials and locals on high alert. Two people were killed and five others were injured in the blasts.

The explosives were reportedly homemade pipe bombs with batteries and smokeless powder, and were created from materials found in a hardware or sporting goods store, an unnamed source in law enforcement told CNN.

Two local television stations, citing anonymous sources, reported that Conditt used the alias “Kelly Killmore” to ship two of the packages containing explosive devices.

Austin police have fielded more than 1,200 reports of suspicious packages in recent weeks.

“We believe that this individual is responsible for all incidents that have taken place in Austin, beginning March 2,” Manley said. He urged people in the area to remain cautious and did not rule out the possibility that the suspect had mailed or planted further bombs before his death.

Loren Elliott / Reuters
Law enforcement personnel investigate the scene where the Texas bombing suspect blew himself up on the side of a highway north of Austin in Round Rock, Texas, on Wednesday.

False alarms have also kept people on edge in recent days. On Tuesday night, a throng of police, reporters and residents raced to the scene of a reported explosion at a Goodwill on the city’s south side. “Someone donated a bomb to us today,” Jerry Davis, CEO of Goodwill Central Texas, told HuffPost at the time. He said that one of the employees there had picked up a device that detonated in his hands.

Minutes later, Austin police confirmed that an odd “incendiary device” had indeed injured the employee, but didn’t bear any connection to the recent bombings and instead resembled “some type of military ordinance or memento” that caught fire.

Reacting to the news of Conditt’s death Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted, “AUSTIN BOMBING SUSPECT IS DEAD. Great job by law enforcement and all concerned!”

Trump on Tuesday called the bomber a “very sick” person.

This story has been updated with police reporting they discovered a “confession” on Conditt’s cellphone.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story indicated that Pflugerville Mayor Victor Gonzales was the mayor of Austin.