Austin serial bombing suspect Mark Anthony Conditt killed himself Wednesday morning as authorities closed in, leaving questions about why an unemployed 24-year-old with no criminal record would have killed two people and spread chaos throughout Texas.
Police say Conditt was the man who made six bombs over the past few weeks. They got on his trail Tuesday after an explosion at a FedEx shipping center near San Antonio and the discovery of an unexploded bomb at a FedEx facility near Austin’s airport.
Authorities tracked him to a hotel in an Austin suburb, then watched as he drove off while they were waiting for bomb squad vehicles to respond, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said.
Police followed and watched as Conditt veered into a ditch. As a SWAT team approached, he detonated a bomb, killing himself and slightly injuring an officer.
Analysts said law enforcement may never know why Conditt started his terrorist spree. There is no regular profile for serial bombers, who remain relatively rare, and Conditt’s behavior diverges from what patterns there are, they said.
“It is impossible to develop a profile on something like this,” said Gregory Vecchi, former chief of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit and assistant professor of criminal justice at Missouri Western State University. “Sometimes you never learn why they did this.”
In a Wednesday evening press conference, Chief Manley spoke similarly, saying Conditt had recorded a 25-minute message on his phone as police closed in. The chief characterized it as a confession and said it detailed exactly how Conditt built each of the bombs but left opaque matters such as motive and choice of targets.
“He does not at all mention anything about terrorism, nor does he mention anything about hate, but instead it’s the outcry of a very challenged young man,” Chief Manley said.
“What was the motive? What was the reason? Sometimes we can’t assign reason to irrational acts,” he said, elaborating that there was also “no reason given” why he targeted the people he did.
The bombings brought home the threat of improvised explosive devices, which for years have plagued American troops in terrorist hot spots overseas but have not been common in the U.S.
The first bombing, on March 2 — from a package delivered to a doorstep — killed 39-year-old Anthony Stephan House. A bomb delivered to a home on March 12 killed a 17-year-old boy and injured his mother. A third blast hours later injured another woman.
A fourth explosion, on Sunday, appears to have been triggered by a tripwire.
A bomb in a package exploded Tuesday around 1 a.m. at a FedEx shipping center in Schertz, northeast of San Antonio, injuring one worker.
Federal and local law enforcement said a package discovered at a FedEx facility outside the Austin airport contained an explosive linked to other bombings, providing a wealth of evidence that reportedly pointed to Conditt.
Conditt, a white male, was home-schooled and attended Austin Community College, but he did not graduate. He lived with two roommates who are said to be cooperating with police.
His parents have spoken with police and released a statement to CNN on Wednesday afternoon saying they suspected nothing amiss and asked for privacy.
“We are devastated and broken at the news that our family could be involved in such an awful way. We had no idea of the darkness that Mark must have been in. … [R]ight now our prayers are for those families that have lost loved ones, for those impacted in any way, and for the soul of our Mark,” they wrote.
Uncle Mike Courtney described his nephew to The Associated Press as an intelligent and kind “computer geek.”
Clint Van Zandt, a 25-year veteran of the FBI, said there was “nothing unusual in his background that you can compare it to a mass murder or spree killer, which is what he was.”
Even for such an unusual crime as serial bombing, Conditt’s actions appear to defy a traditional pattern. Most serial bombers carry out their attacks over a period of years. Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s attacks spanned 17 years. George Metesky, better known as the Mad Bomber of New York, began his spree in 1941 and concluded it in 1956.
Authorities say Conditt’s bombings happened over a matter of days with increasing urgency. At first, his attacks were 10 days apart, then six days, then two.
“He is unusual because we haven’t seen anyone in a hurry-up mode like this,” Mr. Van Zandt said. “We still are trying to understand this from that regard.”
The increased frequency is probably what helped speed up his capture, said Brian Michael Jenkins, a senior adviser to the Rand Corp. on terrorism-related issues.
“The bombings were coming at a high rate, and that increased the odds he would be rapidly identified because each time you carry out a bombing there is more exposure and more risk,” he said.
Conditt appeared to change tactics, from doorstep bombs to a tripwire to delivery. The victims varied. The first two were black and Hispanic residents of East Austin, and the tripwire bomb victims were two white men in a wealthier southwest Austin neighborhood.
“It’s almost like he picked these victims randomly out of a phone book,” Mr. Van Zandt said.
Conditt may have given some insights into his mind in a short-lived 2012 blog called Defining My Stance. Law enforcement has not independently confirmed that the blog belonged to the bomber, but it identifies itself as the work of Mark Conditt from Pflugerville, and the New York Post reported, citing a public records search, that only one person by that name lives in that city.
The six blog posts were written from February 2012 to May 2012 In posts against abortion and gay marriage, Conditt says women should have sex only if they can provide for a child and that it was “not natural” for same-sex couples to be together.
“I am not politically inclined. I view myself as conservative, but I don’t think I have enough information to defend my stance as well as it should be defended,” Conditt wrote.
Profilers warned against connecting those writings and the bomber’s actions.
“Those were six years ago,” Mr. Van Zandt said. “You don’t know if that’s actually how he felt or if it was a school project. I don’t necessarily take that as a snapshot of who he was.”
• Victor Morton contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.