PFLUGERVILLE, Texas -- As a SWAT team closed in, the bomber whose deadly explosives terrorized Austin for three weeks died in an explosion of one of his own devices, authorities said Wednesday. Police warned, however, that he could have planted more bombs before his death, and they cautioned the city to stay on guard.
Mark Anthony Conditt, an unemployed college dropout who bought bomb-making materials at Home Depot, was tracked down using store surveillance video, cellphone signals and witness accounts of a customer shipping packages in a disguise that included a blond wig and gloves.
His motive remained a mystery.
Police found the 23-year-old early Wednesday at a hotel in Round Rock, a suburb north of Austin. Officers prepared to move in for an arrest. When the suspect's sport utility vehicle began to drive away, they followed.
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Photos by The Associated Press
Photos by The Associated Press
Conditt ran the vehicle into a ditch on the side of the road, and SWAT officers approached, banging on his window. Then, a bomb detonated inside the vehicle, knocking back one of the approaching officers. The other SWAT officer fired his gun at Conditt, who suffered "significant injuries from [the] blast," said Brian Manley, the interim Austin police chief.
The medical examiner has not finalized the cause of death, so it was not yet known if Conditt was killed in the explosion or by the gunfire.
It was also not clear if Conditt intentionally detonated the device.
Police said Wednesday evening that they had discovered a 25-minute video recording on a cellphone found with Conditt.
Manley said he considers the recording a "confession" to the bombings but that it does not provide a motive. Instead, he said, it describes in great detail the differences among the bombs.
"It is the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his own life," Manley said of the recording.
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican from Austin, said Conditt had left behind a "target list" with "additional addresses we believe he was using for future targets."
Even now, figuring out a reason Conditt picked the targets he did is difficult. "It's hard to make any rhyme or reason out of the victims," McCaul said.
Law enforcement officials did not say whether Conditt acted alone in the five bombings in the Texas capital and suburban San Antonio that killed two people and severely wounded four others. Fred Milanowski of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said investigators were confident that "the same person built each one of these devices."
Investigators released few details about Conditt, except his age and that he was white. Neighbors said he was home-schooled. He later attended Austin Community College from 2010-12, according to a college spokesman, but he did not graduate.
In a 2012 online blog that the college spokesman said Conditt created as part of a U.S. government class project, he gives his opinion on several issues, often in response to someone else's commentary.
Conditt wrote that gay marriage should be illegal, argued in favor of the death penalty and gave his thoughts on "why we might want to consider" eliminating sex-offender registries.
He also wrote that he wasn't "that politically inclined" but did view himself as conservative.
Jeff Reeb, who said he has lived next to Conditt's parents for about 17 years and watched Conditt grow up, said Conditt always seemed smart and polite.
Detective David Fugitt with the Austin Police Department said Conditt's family was cooperating and was allowing investigators to search their property, including several backyard sheds.
"We had no idea of the darkness that Mark must have been in," his family said in a statement.
Conditt worked for several years at a semiconductor manufacturer at Crux Manufacturing before he was fired in August for poor performance, according to KVUE-TV.
The business's owner, who spoke to the television station anonymously, said Conditt worked in purchasing and sales, and "seemed like a smart kid."
Other friends and neighbors described him as a loner.
"Sometimes he was a very intense person," said Jeremiah Jensen, a friend from the home-schooling community in Pflugerville. "He could sometimes get frustrated. There were times he could get angry over a misunderstanding."
The series of bombings began March 2 with a blast that killed Anthony Stephan House, a 39-year-old with a young daughter. Police initially said they thought it was an isolated incident. Then, 10 days later, another explosion killed Draylen Mason, a college-bound 17-year-old known for his passion for music. Mason's mother also was injured. Hours later, another explosive injured Esperanza Herrera, a 75-year-old Hispanic woman visiting her mother.
Authorities said they were considering whether at least some of the victims were targeted because of their race. Relatives also wondered if any family connections played a role: House's stepfather is friends with Mason's grandfather Norman, and both are prominent fixtures at a black church.
Then, hours after police pleaded with the bomber to reach out and speak to them, an explosive rigged with a tripwire went off Sunday night in southwest Austin, injuring two white men walking through the neighborhood. Investigators said this suggested a worrisome ability to shift gears and attack people at random.
A fifth parcel bomb detonated early Tuesday at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio.
McCaul said Conditt's "fatal mistake" was walking into a FedEx store to mail a package because that allowed authorities to obtain surveillance video that showed him and his vehicle, along with his license plate number.
From there, investigators could identify the suspect and eventually track him using his cellphone.
Police warned of the possibility that more bombs had yet to be found.
"We don't know where this suspect has spent his last 24 hours, and therefore we still need to remain vigilant to ensure that no other packages or devices have been left to the community," Manley said.
By late afternoon, federal officials had a "reasonable level of certainty" that there were no more package bombs "out in the public," Milanowski said. But authorities urged continued alertness just in case.
"We think we're on top of this, but we just don't know," FBI agent Chris Combs said.
Homemade explosives were removed from Conditt's home. His two roommates were detained for questioning. One was later released.
Investigators said one room in the home contained bomb components and explosive materials but no finished bombs. They were analyzing Conditt's Internet history to find out how he learned to make bombs.
Other clues had emerged linking Conditt to the bombings, Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters during a call Wednesday. The red SUV that officers had followed in Round Rock was seen at locations linked to the explosions.
The FedEx shipments offered a significant moment because investigators were able to obtain surveillance footage of Conditt walking into a FedEx store in south Austin wearing a wig and gloves, Abbott said. Investigators also determined that Conditt purchased signs, like the one used to anchor the tripwire-rigged device that detonated Sunday night, Abbott said.
Authorities said Wednesday that they had filed a federal complaint and obtained an arrest warrant for Conditt on Tuesday night. He was charged with one count of unlawful possession and transfer of a destructive device, according to federal court documents.
The complaint affidavit against Conditt remains under seal, but a cover sheet showed that it dealt with charges from March 2-20, the period during which bombs exploded in Austin and outside San Antonio.
Information for this article was contributed by Jim Vertuno, Will Weissert, Paul J. Weber, Emily Schmall, John Mone, Sadie Gurman and Tim Jacobs of The Associated Press; by Kristine Phillips, Mark Berman, Meagan Flynn, Eva Ruth Moravec, Devlin Barrett, Julie Tate and Alice Crites of The Washington Post; by Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Matt Pearce of the Los Angeles Times; and by Manny Fernandez, Jack Healy and Jess Bidgood of The New York Times.
The vehicle Mark Anthony Conditt was driving sits on the side of a highway Wednesday in Round Rock, Texas, after one of his own bombs exploded inside as police approached.
FBI agents break out the windows of Mark Anthony Conditt’s home in Pflugerville, Texas, on Wednesday. Homemade explosives were removed from the house and Conditt’s two roommates were detained for questioning. One was released later.
A Section on 03/22/2018
Print Headline: Texas bomb suspect dies in SUV explosion