Austin bomber left cellphone recording behind

Mark Anthony Conditt
Mark Anthony Conditt(WNDU)
Published: Mar. 21, 2018 at 3:43 AM CDT
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Mark Conditt, 23, left a cellphone recording behind in which he detailed the differences among the package bombs he built, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said during a news conference Wednesday evening.

“I would classify this as a confession,” Manley said.

“On this recording the suspect describes the six bombs that he constructed with a level of specificity that he identified the differences between those six bombs,” he said.

“He does not at all mention anything about terrorism…but instead it is the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his personal life that led him to this point,” he said.

But in terms of a motive, Manley said, “We’re never going to be able to put a rationale behind these acts.”

On the recording, Conditt also described the seventh bomb, which is the one he detonated overnight inside his SUV in his suburban as a SWAT team closed in on him.

Police found the phone after Conditt blew himself up.

FBI and ATF explosives experts worked Wednesday to remove and dispose of homemade explosives recovered from a home in Pflugerville linked to Conditt.

Residents in a four-block radius of the house at 403 Second Street North were evacuated “in an abundance of caution,” the FBI said in a press release.

“The FBI and ATF, in partnership with the Pflugerville Police Department, are working to mitigate any potential hazards to nearby residents,” the bureau said.

During a late-afternoon news conference, authorities said they found bomb-making material in the home, but not finished bombs.

FBI Special Agent Christopher Combs said 500 agents descended on the Austin area in response to the package bombings.

“We haven’t seen an effort like this in many years,” he said.

Plugerville police Chief Jessica Robledo urged residents in the evacuated area to be patient.

She said authorities plan to reopen the area block by block.

ATF Special Agent in Charge Fred Milanowski said the agency is reasonably certain there are no other devices "out in the public," but he urges caution.

Combs echoed Milanowski's sentiment, saying "we think we're on top of this, but we just don't know."

On Twitter, Austin police asked the public to "remain vigilant."

Earlier Wednesday authorities detained two people who lived with Conditt.

Austin police said Wednesday that one roommate was questioned and later released, while the second was held for questioning.

The second roommate was later released as well.

Neither was identified.

Conditt detonated a bomb inside his SUV early Tuesday morning after a SWAT team closed in on him as he left a hotel in Round Rock.

Conditt pulled onto the southbound I-35 access road in an attempt to escape and then, after police boxed him in, blew himself up.

The SUV ended up in a ditch near the side of Interstate 35 across from the district office of U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock.

Investigators had traced the vehicle to the hotel earlier and a tactical team had been waiting for hours when the car began to move, Manley said.

Manley said at a news conference Wednesday evening that within seconds, the suspect had detonated a bomb in his car, blasting the officers backward.

Manley said one officer then fired his weapon at the suspect.

He said the county medical examiner has not finalized the cause of death, but that the bomb caused "significant" injuries.

Manley said "harrowing" video showed a "tremendous explosion" took place.

The southbound lanes of Interstate 35 were closed for hours in the area of the blast, but have since reopened.

The mayor of the suspected Austin bomber's hometown says Conditt lived only two blocks away from him in a part of Pflugerville known as Old Town.

Pflugerville Mayor Victor Gonzales told The Associated Press on Wednesday that police had surveillance on the home overnight Tuesday, though he said he didn't personally know the family.

Gonzales says he had concerned neighbors approaching him because of the large police presence in the neighborhood.

He says he let them know everything would be OK.

A neighbor who watched Conditt grow up says he "always seemed like he was smart" and "polite."

Jeff Reeb said Wednesday that he's lived next to Conditt’s parents for about 17 years and that they are good neighbors.

Reeb says Mark Conditt and his grandson played together into middle school and that Conditt visited his parents regularly.

The parents live a few miles from the Pflugerville home where Mark Conditt lived with roommates.

Reeb says Conditt was in the process of gutting the house and remodeling it, which meant a lot of hammers and nails around frequently.

He says police had an unmarked car parked near Conditt's parents' house overnight into Wednesday.

He says Condit's father, whom he called Pat, worked as an Amway distributor and also bought electronics on the side to resell.

Jeff Reeb said Conditt's parents educated Conditt and his three younger sisters, ages 21, 18 and 13.

A worker at a Pflugerville company, Crux Manufacturing, says Conditt had worked there in the past.

The worker declined to be identified, saying police had instructed employees not to speak to the media.

Gov. Greg Abbott told KXAN-TV in Austin that Conditt was evidently unemployed when he began planting bombs.

Jay Schulze, who has lived in the Pflugerville neighborhood for 13 years, says he was out jogging Tuesday night when he was stopped by police and asked about the bombings.

He says there has been a large police presence in the neighborhood since Tuesday night and that that police flew drones over a home from about 9 p.m. until about 3 a.m.

He described the home over which the drones were flying as "a weird house with a lot of people coming and going" and a bit rundown.

A spokeswoman for a community college says Conditt was a student there from 2010 to 2012 but didn't graduate.

Austin Community College spokeswoman Jessica Vess said in an email Wednesday Conditt hadn't attended the school since that time.

She says the school is working with Austin police to provide any information they need.

Conditt doesn't appear to have left much of a trail on social media, but in 2012 posts on what appears to be his personal blog he expressed opinions about a range of topics, including gay marriage.

A blogger who identified himself as Mark Conditt, of Pflugerville, made six entries, all in 2012, in which he wrote that he thinks gay marriage should be illegal and that sex offender registries should be eliminated.

He also described his interests as cycling, tennis and listening to music.

Austin has been targeted by four package bombings since March 2 that killed two people and wounded four others.

A fifth parcel bomb detonated at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio early Tuesday.

A federal agent says it's "hard to say" whether Conditt was acting alone.

Fred Milanowski, agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' Houston Field Division, told reporters Wednesday that investigators believe Conditt built all of four of the package bombs that have blown up in Austin since March 2.

But Milanowski says investigators aren't completely convinced that there aren't other explosive devices "out there," and that authorities want the public to remain vigilant.

Asked if the suspect built bombs prior to the start of the spree in Austin, Milanowski responded: "We know when he bought some of the components. It's hard to say whether he was building along the way"

A Republican congressman from Texas says Conditt bought a lot of his bomb-making equipment from a Home Depot store in Pflugerville.

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told KXAN-TV that authorities retraced the suspect's steps after he was caught on surveillance video at an Austin-area FedEx store.

McCaul says investigators obtained the suspect's license plate number and were able to identify him, then track what he purchased at a Home Depot.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says that at this point, investigators believe Conditt acted alone.

Abbott told Austin's KXAN-TV on Wednesday that "everything that we have right now shows he acted alone," but he cautioned that the investigation is ongoing.

Abbott says the suspect had no known military experience or criminal record.

He also says it is unclear if the bombs were made at the suspect's house or perhaps at the motel where he was arrested.

Abbott says investigators were watching the suspect for 24 hours, that his cellphone pinged in several different locations and that a key break in the case came when witnesses saw him at several stores wearing a blonde wig that looked odd to others.

Partially unsealed federal court documents show that agents from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms were ready to arrest Conditt on Tuesday on a charge alleging he had received, possessed or transferred destructive devices.

A U.S. Magistrate Judge heard by phone Tuesday an ATF agent's request to issue an arrest warrant for Conditt and signed the warrant electronically.

Many of the court documents remained sealed on Wednesday, including two orders from the magistrate and the cause for the warrant.

No other people are named in the criminal complaint cover sheet, which says Conditt was wanted for offenses between March 2, when the first bomb went off, and Tuesday, when the warrant was signed.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP)--Members of bombing suspect Mark Conditt's family says they are "devastated and broken" at the news of his involvement.
The Conditt family released a statement Wednesday afternoon expressing shock and grief, as well as offering their "prayers for those families who have lost loved ones ... and for the soul of our Mark."
Conditt's uncle, Mike Courtney, told The Associated Press he doesn't "know that anybody saw this coming." Courtney described his nephew as a smart, intelligent and kind "computer geek."
The family's statement says they had "no idea of the darkness that Mark must have been in."
Austin police say Conditt died overnight after he set off an explosive device inside of his vehicle in a suburban Austin hotel parking lot as SWAT teams closed in.