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Two men were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries after another explosion rocked residents in southwest Austin.
USA Today

AUSTIN — Residents in a southwest Austin neighborhood hunkered down in their homes Monday after police said a bomb blast, possibly set off by a tripwire, injured two men in the latest in a string of mysterious and sometimes deadly blasts to rock the city.

Authorities worked to determine if the blast was connected to three bombings this month that have killed two people, wounded two others and fueled fear in the Texas capital. Those attacks involved suspicious packages left on doorsteps. The package Sunday apparently was left on the side of a road.

“There are indications it was related to the first three,” Mayor Steven Adler said Monday. Police Chief Brian Manley urged residents within a half-mile of the blast on Dawn Song Drive to stay inside until at least 10 a.m. local time Monday so law enforcement could “ensure the neighborhood is safe.”

“It is very possible that this device was a device that was activated by someone handling, kicking or coming into contact with a tripwire,” Manley said. “That changes things.”

Manley said the tripwire technology is more complex than explosives in the previous attacks. Authorities previously warned residents not to handle unidentified or suspicious packages left at their homes. Now residents must have an “extra level of vigilance” to stay clear of any questionable package — and call 911.

“Our safety message to this point has been … do not handle packages, do not pick up packages, do not disturb packages,” Manley said. “We now need the community to have an extra level of vigilance and pay attention to any suspicious device — whether it be a package, a bag, a backpack — anything that looks out of place. Do not approach it.”

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In the latest blast, at about 8:30 p.m. CT Sunday, two men were hospitalized with serious but non-life-threatening injuries, Austin-Travis County EMS said. Dozens of law enforcement officers, including FBI agents, flooded the neighborhood of single-family brick homes to investigate. 

“We simply don’t know a lot at this point,” Manley said. “Stay in your residence. Don’t touch anything that looks suspicious.”

Earlier Sunday, Manley pleaded to the person behind the attacks to turn themselves in.

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“We hope this person or persons is watching and will reach out to us before anyone else is injured or anyone else is killed,” he said in a news conference. “We assure you, we are listening and we want to understand what brought you to this point, and we want to listen to you, so please call us.”

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Manley also announced a reward had increased to $100,000 for information leading to an arrest in the case. That, along with an award from the governor’s office, brings the total reward to $115,000. 

Each of the three previous attacks had been similar: a plain cardboard box with standard shipping labels was left on a doorstep. Each package had a bomb inside. 

Police initially raised the possibility of a hate crime because victims in the first two explosions were black. The third apparent target was Hispanic.

The victims of Sunday’s blast were white males, Manley said. And the first three attacks, unlike the attack Sunday, took place in the eastern part of the city.

The first package exploded March 2, killing Anthony Stephan House, 39, when he picked up a box on the front porch of his northeast Austin home. 

The second bomb went off before 7 a.m. March 12 inside a home in east Austin. Police said Draylen Mason, 17, brought the package inside the kitchen and was opening it alongside his mother when it exploded. The teen was killed, his mother was hospitalized.

The third blast came a short time later in a neighborhood south of downtown. A 75-year-old Hispanic woman picked up a package on her front porch when it exploded, seriously injuring her. Manley said she remains hospitalized with “life-threatening injuries.” 

More than 100 local and federal agents, including members of ATF and the FBI, were on the case, Adler said.

“This is a well-disciplined, focused and determined army of investigators,” he said. “I’m confident in their ability to find the folks responsible and stopping them.”

The latest blast occurred on the final day of the popular South By Southwest festival, which attracts global leaders in business, technology, music and film. Manley said investigators know the incidents were meant to send a message but are unsure what it is. 

“We want to put out the message … do not touch any packages or anything that looks like a package, do not even go near it at this time,” Manley said.

Bacon and Hayes reported from McLean, Va.

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