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Texas Law Enforcement Working To Find Motive Behind Austin Bombings

Mar 20, 2018
Originally published on March 20, 2018 10:00 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump offered his first public comments on the Austin bomb attacks today. He called the culprit behind five bombings that have killed two people and injured four a very sick individual or individuals. There is now a fifth crime scene. A package bound for Austin exploded early this morning at a FedEx distribution center. No one was injured. Later today, we learned that the authorities found a suspicious unexploded package at another location. NPR's John Burnett is on the line with us from the capital of Texas. John, thanks so much for joining us.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Sure, Michel.

MARTIN: What's new today in the bombing investigation?

BURNETT: Well, shortly after midnight, a package blew up in the FedEx sorting facility in the city of Schertz just north of San Antonio. The box was moving along a conveyor belt when it appears to have detonated prematurely. It had reportedly been sent from Austin, and it was addressed to Austin. Later in the day, Federal Express tweeted that the individual responsible also shipped a second package that did not blow up, and it's been turned over to law enforcement. An FBI agent confirmed to me there is a suspicious package found at a different FedEx facility. That was near the Austin airport.

But that's potentially good news for the investigation. An intact bomb can yield really important information like fingerprints of a suspect or show how the devices were constructed. So of the five bombs that have exploded in the last 19 days, this is the first one that did not reach its destination or hurt anyone. This is Schertz Police Chief Michael Hansen talking to reporters this morning in a blustery wind.

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MICHAEL HANSEN: One employee that was standing near the explosion later complained of ringing in the ears. She was treated and released. We were very fortunate that there were no injuries.

MARTIN: John, what can you tell us about how the investigation is going?

BURNETT: There's lots of federal cops down here, Michel. The Department of Justice alone has 350 people - surveillance teams, bomb techs, FBI behavioral analysts and ATF forensic scientists. The city of Austin has gotten more than 1,200 911 calls just in the past week from citizens about suspicious packages. And every report has to be checked out, so you can imagine the manpower that's needed for that.

MARTIN: Did the explosion last night tell us anything about whoever is behind this?

BURNETT: Well, the bomber - or bombers, we should - say keep changing their delivery methods. We've now had exploding boxes left on front porches. We've had a bomb attached to a trip wire that was strung next to a street. And now there's this package bomb that went off at FedEx. Here's acting Austin Police Chief Brian Manley. He was briefing the city council this morning.

BRIAN MANLEY: And with what just occurred in Schertz, Texas, we've now brought in the new element that that device was actually going through one of the carrier services instead of being hand-delivered, as was the case in the first three, as we believe that to be.

BURNETT: But as the chief said, while a new bomb explosion adds to a community's anxiety, it also creates more forensic information that can help investigators catch the bomber.

MARTIN: And, John, of course, the big question here is why. Have we heard anything at all about what authorities think is the point of this? Why Austin? Why is somebody trying to terrorize your city?

BURNETT: Right. Well, that's what everybody wants to know. Today, I spoke with Pete Klismet in Fort Collins, Colo. He's a retired criminal profiler with the FBI, and he writes books and teaches college courses about this area of police work. Klismet says investigators know they need to flush out this bomber and find out what he's angry about. As an example, he points to the investigation into the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski.

PETE KLISMET: The Unabomber sent this large manifesto. And his brother recognized it, so that was very helpful. Some of them do like to do that for their own self-aggrandizement, I suppose, you know, to gain some notoriety.

BURNETT: So the FBI is taking the extraordinary step of really sending a message, asking the bomber to be in touch. They said, we want to listen to you.

MARTIN: That's NPR's John Burnett with the latest on the investigation into the Austin bombings. John, thank you.

BURNETT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.