AUSTIN, Texas — Texas’ capital city was rocked by a fourth bombing this month, which injured two people and was caused by a tripwire that investigators say showed “a different level of skill” than the package bombs used in the three prior attacks.
Police Chief Brian Manley told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Monday that both men who were injured in Sunday night’s explosion in the southwestern Austin neighbourhood of Travis Country are white, unlike the victims in the three earlier blasts, who were black or Hispanic. He said the blast involved a tripwire, though it wasn’t clear how or where it was strung. The injured men were riding or pushing bicycles when the explosives detonated, unlike the first three attacks, in which package bombs were left on people’s doorsteps.
Authorities on Monday were canvassing the area in search of anything suspicious, and residents were warned to remain indoors and to call 911 if they needed to leave their homes.
Travis Country is far from the sites of the earlier bombings, which occurred over two-plus weeks in residential neighbourhoods east of Interstate 35. The highway divides the city, with the east side historically being poorer and more heavily minority than the west side, though that has changed as gentrification has raised home prices and rents everywhere.
The first of the four explosions was caused by a package bomb that detonated at a northeastern Austin home on March 2, killing a 39-year-old man. Two other package bombs exploded farther south on March 12. The first killed a 17-year-old and wounded his mother and the second injured a 75-year-old woman.
At a news conference hours after Sunday’s blast, which happened around 8:30 p.m., Manley again warned people not to pick up or approach suspicious items. He also said authorities worked overnight to clear a suspicious backpack found in the area that was separately reported.
Mayor Steve Adler said the latest explosion only further raised anxieties in the city.
“That concern is legitimate and real,” Adler said, adding that residents should also be reassured by the massive police response to the attacks. Droves of federal agents are investigating, along with Austin police.
“That anxiousness is going to continue until we can find the answer,” Adler said.
Spring break ends Monday for the University of Texas and many area school districts, meaning people who were out of town have returned home to heightened fears.
The university’s campus police warned returning students to be wary, saying, “We must look out for one another.” None of the four attacks happened close to the university’s sprawling campus near the heart of Austin.
Police kept residential streets near Sunday night’s blast on lockdown, gradually expanding their barricades. Before daybreak Monday, Austin police pushed another alert to cellphones advising residents to continue staying indoors and to call 911 if they needed to leave their homes before late morning. Austin’s school district announced that buses wouldn’t be going into the Travis Country neighbourhood because of police activity and that any “tardies or absences due to this situation will be excused.”
But concern spread well past the immediate blast site.
Andrew Zimmerman, 44, a coffee shop worker on the city’s west side, said he’s lived in Austin his entire life.
“This makes me sick,” Zimmerman said, noting the prospect of a tripwire being used to trigger Sunday night’s explosion adds a “new level” of suspected professionalism since that kind of device is harder to guard against than just being vigilant about reporting suspect packages.
“That’s what scares me a little bit,” he added.
The two men injured on Sunday are in their 20s. Police said they were hospitalized with injuries that weren’t life-threatening.
That’s a departure from the previous explosions. They were likely related and involved packages that had not been mailed or delivered by private carrier but left overnight on doorsteps. Manley originally suggested they could have been hate crimes since all the victims of the first three explosions were black or Hispanic, but now says that investigators aren’t ruling out any possible motive.
The latest explosion came hours after authorities raised the reward by $50,000 for information leading to the arrest of whoever is responsible for the first three explosions. It now totals $115,000.
Sunday was the final day of the South By Southwest music festival, which draws hundreds of thousands to Austin every March. The explosions occurred far from its activities, though a downtown concert by hip-hop band The Roots was cancelled Saturday night after a bomb threat. Authorities later arrested a 26-year-old man, and the incident did not appear to be related to any previous explosions.
The PGA’s Dell Technologies Match Play tournament is scheduled to begin in Austin on Wednesday, and dozens of the world’s top golfers were set to begin arriving the day before.
Associated Press writer Jim Vertuno contributed to this report.
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Paul J. Weber And Will Weissert, The Associated Press