Surveillance footage showed a man in a disguise and pink construction gloves, dropping off packages at the FedEx store. It did not seem like much, but it was what investigators were looking for while they were hunting the mysterious and prolific bomb-maker.
Over the two-week investigation, officials had not seen the man responsible for terrorizing Austin, Texas, since March 2, 2018. However, the security footage did show a 2002 red Ford Ranger without a view of the license plate. Therefore, they had to comb through every record that contained the same make and model of the vehicle and match them to a white male in his 20s.
It was also determined the pink construction gloves were purchased from Home Depot. Then, investigators started gathering surveillance footage from Home Depot stores in and around the Austin area and found the same suspect they had seen at the FedEx stores.
Officials had narrowed down the license plates and began to follow a handful of people. One of the men they were following was Mark Conditt, who authorities believed was the serial bomber.
Twenty-three-year-old Conditt did not have a criminal record. As the SWAT team closed in, Conditt ignited a bomb from inside his truck and killed himself before he could be arrested early Wednesday, March 21. The trail of homemade bombs that killed two people and injured many others, ended in a ditch in Round Rock on Interstate 35. Conditt’s motives left unanswered.
Another big break came Wednesday night. Authorities found a 25-minute confession on Conditt’s phone. “It is the outcry of a very challenged you man talking about challenges in his personal life that led him to this point,” according to Austin Police Chief Brain Manley.
Special agent Christopher H. Combs in charge of the FBI office in San Antonio stated that they had not seen an effort like this one in many years.
Authorities said Conditt planted a bomb in Travis County neighborhood, in Austin, and connected the tripwire to a sign that read, “Caution: Children at Play.” He purchased the sign at Home Depot, and placed the sign himself, along with four others.
Investigators were able to put Conditt on the scene with data from his cellphone and through his Google search history. After he dropped off the packages at the FedEx store, he got inside his truck, which had been called in as a potential lead. Officials were finally able to get the license plate number and Conditt’s cellphone number. Once the number was obtained, he could be tracked directly through his cellphone.
Conditt’s suicide left more questions for investigators: Who was this man? How did he become a bomb-maker? Why did he do it? However, the biggest concern was, did he send out more bombs before he died, and did he have any accomplices?
He grew up and lived in the Austin suburb of Pflugerville, where a fear persisted throughout the day, even after he died. Neighbors were forced to evacuate from the area surrounding the house Conditt shared with two roommates. Investigators discovered more bomb materials in the home. The neighbors were allowed to return to their homes later the same day.
Austin police questioned Conditt’s roommates. Neither of the roommates was identified. His family was cooperating and allowing the authorities to search the property, including a number of sheds in the backyard. According to Detective David Fugitt, with the Austin Police Department, there is no reason to believe Conditt’s family had any knowledge of what Conditt was doing. Neighbors and friends were shocked to learn that Conditt was the serial bomber terrorizing Austin, Texas.
Conditt was described as polite by a 75-year-old neighbor, who also said:
It’s extremely shocking. My summation is it doesn’t make any sense. It just doesn’t make any sense, which, most of these things like this, don’t make any sense.
The serial bomber was home schooled before attending Austin Community College. In his blog, Conditt described himself as “not that politically inclined,” however, he expressed his conservative views on gay marriage and the death penalty. Friends and neighbors stated he was a loner.
Donna Sebastian Harp has known the family for 18 years and she said Conditt “was a nerd, always reading, devouring books and computers and things like that. He was always kind of quiet.”
The first attack was a package bomb, which went off on the porch of a home in Austin, killing Anthony Stephan House, age 39. Ten days later, two bombs were found outside homes. One of those bombs killed a 17-year-old male.
The first three bombs were detonated when they were picked up or shaken. However, on Sunday a package bomb was detonated by tripwire in the Travis Country neighborhood.
The fifth bomb went off at a FedEx store in Schertz, Texas on Tuesday. Another bomb, which did not detonate, was found at a FedEx store in Austin, also on Tuesday.
Chief Manley told reporters that police were unsure what motivated him to send out the explosives.
For 19 days, the serial bomber terrorized the Central Texas regions of Austin and San Antonio. The acts evoked the “nowhere-is-safe quality of the anthrax mailings of 2001 and the Washington sniper attacks of 2002.”
The 23-year-old bomb-maker, who did not finish at the Austin Community College, his devices and changing methods as a serial bomber left some of the nation’s most experienced federal experts baffled early in the investigation. Nevertheless, it was his change in delivery that largely led the police to Conditt.
It was the fifth one, the one he shipped from the FedEx facility, that captured him on video. He was wearing a black T-shirt, a baseball cap and standing at the counter. This was only one place he was caught on surveillance video. Conditt shipped two package bombs and another was accidentally detonated at a FedEx store in Schertz. The authorities were able to trace the packages to the FedEx facility, and then to him.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott told reporters that authorities were able to monitor him for 24 hours before his death. Conditt’s vehicle was traced to a Round Rock hotel. It was there SWAT surrounded him with other specialized units. Nevertheless, he had escaped before the teams arrived. Officers followed him. He pulled over in a ditch on Interstate 35. SWAT approached the vehicle on foot.
The police chief stated that Conditt detonated a bomb inside the vehicle. The explosion threw one officer back. Another officer fired at the vehicle. Now investigators will proceed to learn why this serial bomber was terrorizing Austin, Texas.
By Jeanette Smith
The New York Times: Lucky Breaks, Video and Pink Gloves Led to Austin Bombing Suspect
Image Courtesy of David Ingram’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License