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Posted: March 19, 2018

Austin explosions: 2 men hurt in fourth blast this month

An Austin police vehicle blocks a road leading to the scene of a possible bombing in Austin, Texas, on Sunday, March 18, 2018. (Photo: Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman)
An Austin police vehicle blocks a road leading to the scene of a possible bombing in Austin, Texas, on Sunday, March 18, 2018. (Photo: Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman)

By Jeremy Schwartz, Austin American-Statesman

AUSTIN, Texas —

An explosion tore through a quiet Southwest Austin, Texas, neighborhood Sunday night, sending two men to the hospital with serious injuries and heightening worries that a serial package bomber is targeting the city’s residents.

Shortly before 9 p.m., an explosion rocked a cul-de-sac of well-heeled homes near the Greenbelt just north of the Y in Oak Hill, sparking the closure of several streets and bringing a massive law enforcement contingent of Austin police and FBI agents to the neighborhood. Officers planned to carefully inspect the neighborhood throughout the night for clues and other suspicious objects. Around 11 p.m., police closed an area near Dawn Song Drive to check out a suspicious backpack left near the scene of the explosion.

>> Austin package bombings: Friends remember victims Draylen Mason, Anthony House

Austin interim Police Chief Brian Manley urged anyone within a half-mile radius of Dawn Song Drive to stay inside or avoid the area until daylight. At a news conference near the scene, he told reporters that he was not going to take question “because we simply just don’t know anything at this time.”

At 12:30 a.m. Monday, about 15 federal agents were walking side-by-side stretched across Travis County Circle near the entrance to the Travis Country subdivision shining flashlights on the road searching for clues.

At 1:30 a.m., Manley said it was possible that a trip-wire triggered the explosion, a departure from the three prior bombs that were all inside packages. Manley said investigators believe Sunday’s explosion was caused by a bomb and are operating under the assumption that it was connected to the three prior blasts.

>> Read more trending news 

Some neighbors reported they had been told the explosion was the result of a trip wire, but police would not confirm any details of the blast Sunday night.

Two men in their 20s were hospitalized with serious injuries, but officials said later that they were in good condition.

If Sunday’s blast is connected to the three bombs that have killed two Austin residents and injured two others since March 2, it would mark a geographic widening of the bomber’s targets. The first three bombs were east of Interstate 35 and hit black or Hispanic residents. The first two victims, 39-year-old Anthony Stephan House and 17-year-old Draylen Mason, are connected to two prominent African-American families with ties to an East Austin church and long histories fighting for racial justice and empowerment of the city’s African-American community. The third bomb hit a Latina resident and her mother in Montopolis.

For many worried Austinites, the bombings raised the specter that someone was targeting minority residents and police have said they are probing the family connections between the victims. The race of the victims Sunday night were not released.

‘Quiet community’

Angie Wagner, a Travis Country homeowners association board member who lives in the area of Sunday night’s explosion, said the neighborhood is a quiet, close-knit community.

“This will cause everyone to keep a closer eye on things,” she said. “We just started a community watch program, and they’re about to start their training.”

Russell Reno has lived in the area for about six months. He said a big reason why he chose to move into the neighborhood from Buda was because it was a relaxed and family-oriented.

He said he had heard about explosions in other parts of the city and was perplexed why someone would target his neighborhood.

“There are some sick people in the world,” he said.

It’s not clear if the fourth device was left at someone’s door as in the first three instances.

Police have said that whoever constructed the first three bombs used common household items that can be easily purchased at hardware stores, potentially making efforts to identify the perpetrator more difficult, law enforcement officials said last week.

>> Austin package explosions: 3 blasts appear connected, claim 2 lives, police say

Federal agents this week have been visiting local stores trying to determine if a customer purchased items that appear suspicious, but have not gained information to lead them to a possible suspect, sources have said.

Even before Sunday night, the bombings had put Austin on edge as it hosted the massive South by Southwest festival. Austin police have responded to about 700 suspicious package calls, and Manley said earlier Sunday that more than 500 federal agents are assisting the Police Department in the investigation, including officials from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Authorities have followed up on 435 leads that led to 236 interviews.

A bomb scare led to the cancellation of a highly anticipated SXSW showcase by the Roots on Saturday night. Later that night, a 26-year-old man was arrested and charged with emailing the threat that led to the concert. Trevor Weldon Ingram faces up to 10 years in prison on charges of making a terroristic threat, but police said they do not think he is connected to the earlier bombings.

>> Man held in SXSW threat ruled out as bomb suspect, police say

On Sunday, police announced a $50,000 increase to the reward offered in exchange for any information leading to the arrest of the bomber behind three recent deadly explosions.

The increase, on top of $15,000 being offered by Gov. Greg Abbott and the $50,000 reward offered by police last week, brings the total reward amount to $115,000.

Police also said that they believe the incidents were intended to send a message and continued to plead for any information from the community.

“We don’t know what the ideology is behind this or what the motive is behind this,” Manley said.

– This article includes reports from Brandon Mulder, Mark D. Wilson, Tony Plohetski, John Bridges and Tom Labinski.

What You Need to Know: Austin Package Explosions


Related

The Roots' SXSW show canceled after bomb threat; man arrested

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Roots' SXSW show canceled after bomb threat; man arrested

Update, 2:14 a.m. CDT Sunday: Austin police have arrested a man in connection with a bomb threat that led to the cancellation of The Roots’ show Saturday at South by Southwest. 

The city of Austin tweeted the following statement early Sunday:

Trevor Weldon Ingram, 26, was arrested on charges of making a terroristic threat, a third-degree felony, the release said.

Police also tweeted Ingram’s booking photo:

ORIGINAL STORY: A South by Southwest performance by The Roots at Fair Market in Austin, Texas, was canceled Saturday night due to a “security concern,” event organizers said.

>> Visit Statesman.com for the latest on this developing story

A police spokesman said around 9:30 p.m. that more information would be released via Twitter, but nothing had been posted by 11:30 p.m. CDT.

However, the Austin Chronicle reported that it had two staffers at the event. One staffer heard event workers discussing the concern as a bomb threat, according to a report the weekly posted online, and "a second Chronicle staffer spoke with someone working at Fair Market tonight, who confirmed that Austin police were canvassing the property to determine whether there is any validity to the threat."

The cancellation of the show on the final night of the South By Southwest Festival comes at a time of heightened concern in the city following three deadly package bombs – two on Monday – that have exploded in East Austin this month, killing two people and seriously injuring a third.

>> Austin package explosions: 3 blasts appear connected, claim 2 lives, police say

Representatives for the event issued the following statement Saturday night after the cancellation

“Due to a security concern, we have made the difficult decision to cancel tonight’s Bud Light x The Roots SXSW Jam. After working proactively with SXSW, the Austin Police Department, and other authorities, Bud Light believes this is the best course of action to ensure the safety of our guests, staff, and artists, and appreciate your understanding. We are truly sorry to have to cancel the event, but we felt it was necessary to take all safety precautions.”

>> Austin package bombings: Friends remember victims Draylen Mason, Anthony House

In an Instagram post, Fair Market representatives said Anheuser-Busch made the call to cancel the event.

In a tweet that was later deleted Saturday night, frontman Questlove wrote, “Uh, welp can’t say much but for those in Austin waiting in line to see us tonight. Tonight’s show has been cancelled. They’ll make official announcement but I’d rather save y’all the trouble of waiting in line.”

>> On Austin360.com: Complete coverage of SXSW

In response to fans who were upset after waiting in line for hours, Questlove also tweeted:

Austin package explosions: 3 blasts appear connected, claim 2 lives, police say

Three package explosions in Austin in the past two weeks appear similar and related, authorities said Monday, and police are warning residents against taking suspicious packages inside their homes.

>> Read more trending news

Officials increase reward to $115,000 for information on Austin bombings

UPDATE 2:30 p.m. CDT Sunday: Austin police on Sunday announced a $50,000 increase in the reward offered in exchange for any information leading to the arrest of the bomber behind three recent deadly explosions.

>> Read more trending news

The increase, on top of $15,000 being offered by Gov. Greg Abbott and the $50,000 reward offered by police last week, brings the total reward amount to $115,000.

Police  continued pleading for information on the bombings from the community.

Interim Police Chief Brian Manley said that the three bombing incidents within two weeks “were meant to send a message,” although they do not yet know what the bomber’s ideology and motives are.

“We’re hoping to encourage you to come forward with the addition of this tip money that’s now available,” Manley said. “The person or persons understand what that message is, and is responsible for constructing or delivering these devices, and we hope this person or persons is watching and will reach out to us before anyone else is injured or killed out of this even.”

Manley said the cooperation and support from federal partners has been “unprecedented.”

More than 500 agents between the police,  the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and FBI are involved in the investigation, he said. Agents have followed up on 435 leads that have resulted in 236 interviews.

Manley also described the process of the investigation, which includes 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. briefings every day. A command center, comprised of local and federal agents, has been set up to handle the deluge of tips. 

“The process is complex, but it is working for us as we go through all these tips,” he said.

Manley said officers have received 735 calls for suspicious packages as of Sunday.

On March 2, 39-year-old Anthony Stephan House died after a package at his home in Northeast Austin detonated. Then, on March 12, police responded to two more package bombings in East Austin -- one that killed Draylen Mason, 17, and injured his mother, and a second attack at another home that sent a woman in her 70s to the hospital with serious injuries.

Manley said that woman is “still fighting for her life,” but would not give any further details on her condition.

Original story: Austin police and the FBI will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. Sunday to announce an increase in the reward for information that leads to the arrest of the person or people responsible for the three package bombs that have killed two people and injured a third in East Austin.

The news conference comes a day after a bomb threat at an East Austin music venue forced the cancelation of a South By Southwest show by The Roots.

  Austin package explosions: 3 blasts appear connected, claim 2 lives, police say
  The Roots' SXSW show canceled after bomb threat; man arrested
  Austin explosions: 2 men hurt in fourth blast this month

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