Three package bombs in two weeks are likely connected, police say

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Three package bombs at Austin homes in the last two weeks are believed to be related, Austin police said Monday as they investigated two explosions Monday morning within 5 hours of each other.

In total, the three explosions have killed two people and injured two others.

In the third explosion just 11:50 a.m. Monday, a 75-year-old Hispanic woman walked outside her home in southeast Austin and found a package. It exploded when she picked the package up, Interim Chief of Police Brian Manley said, describing the packages used as average size boxes that are “not exceptionally large.” The packages are not from any of the official mail or delivery services.

At last report, Manley said the woman was in critical, but stable condition with life-threatening injuries following the blast in the 6700 block of Galindo Street, not far from the intersection of Montopolis Drive and East Riverside Drive.

“It shook my house and it shook my body,” said Isaiah Guerrero, who says he was in his room when he heard the explosion. Guerrero says he climbed onto his roof where he could see police walking up to one of his neighbors’ homes. “From that angle, you could actually see the house that got the package sent to them.”

Manley implored members of the community with any information on the explosions — “however trivial you believe it to be,” he said — to contact police. There is currently no description available of a possible suspect or suspect vehicle.

Anyone who finds a suspicious package they were not expecting at their home should stay away from the box and call 911, the chief urged.

Austin-Travis County EMS says a 17-year-old boy died earlier Monday after an explosion around 6:44 a.m. in the 4800 block of Oldfort Hill Drive, which is near the intersection of Springdale Road and East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The boy’s mother was also injured in the blast.

Chief Manley said one of the residents had taken a package from the front porch inside and it exploded when they tried to open it in the kitchen. A woman injured in the explosion had non-life threatening injuries.

Police initially investigated a second package they found in the home and evacuated neighbors from the area using Capital Metro buses, but later determined the second package was not dangerous.

The FBI’s teams out of Austin and Dallas are helping the Austin Police Department in its investigation. The national office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is sending a team. The postal inspector is also assisting, as well as the Texas Department of Public Safety’s K-9 team.

“We will leave no stone unturned, because we are not going to allow this to go on in our city,” Manley said. Addressing South by Southwest, which brings a large number of visitors into Austin this week, the chief said people should be aware of what’s going on and look for things that are suspicious.

“We continue to work with law enforcement and our venues to address the safety of SXSW attendees,” a festival spokesperson said. “At this time the Austin Police Department does not believe that the incidents are connected to the event. The substantial security operation already in place for SXSW has been instructed to be extra vigilant.”

APD does not know if the victims are the intended targets, because they are being left at homes with multiple residents.

Third explosion in a month

A man died at his northeast Austin home toward the beginning of March after a “device” exploded, police say. Anthony Stephan House died after the explosion on his front porch around 6:55 a.m. March 2, in the 1100 block of Haverford Drive, which is about 12 miles away from Oldfort Hill Drive neighborhood.

The Washington Post is reporting House’s stepfather, Freddie Dixon, was good friends with the grandfather of the teenager killed Monday.

Police said at the time they believed the Haverford Drive explosion was an isolated incident. Now, they are investigating the explosions as related, and re-classified House’s death from “suspicious” to “homicide.”

“We do see similarities and believe these cases are linked at this time,” Manley said. He acknowledged that both victims in the first two explosions were African-American, saying at this point police are not ruling out that these incidents could be hate crimes.

“We’re just acknowledging and we’re looking at any possible motivations that would link these two cases together so that we can put this case together, understanding the victimology and who might these individuals had known and had in common,” Manley said.

Police say they know what the first explosive device was, but are not sharing specifics during the investigation.

Beware suspicious packages

Regarding unexpected or suspicious packages you may find in the front of your home, Chief Manley said, “Under no circumstance should use touch them, move them or handle them in any way. But instead, make that call [to 911] and, if you can, exit your residence or go to the back of the residence until that time that we can get there and deem that safe.”

“If you’ve received a package that has been left on your doorstep or left in your yard or left on your driveway that you were not expecting … then give us a call.” – APD Chief Manley

Police say the package that arrived at Anthony House’s home was not delivered through the U.S. Postal Service or any other delivery service. They are working to determine if the second package was delivered by a company or dropped off by an individual. USPS says it did not deliver the second package.

APD believes the third explosion package was not delivered by any official delivery or mail service either. “These are very powerful advices,” Manley warned, citing the damage done to the front porch in the first explosion earlier this month.

As of 6 p.m. Monday, Austin police have received 82 reports of other suspicious packages compared to just two last Monday. Police have given the all-clear following the reports.