With police near, suspected Austin bomber blows himself up

By AP Author, Cory McCord - Digital News Editor

AUSTIN, Texas - As a SWAT team closed in, the suspected bomber whose deadly explosives terrorized Austin for three weeks used one of his devices to blow himself up.

STORY MAP: How the Austin bombings unfolded

An official with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says the agency is reasonably certain there are no other devices "out in the public," but he urges caution.

WATCH: Gov. Greg Abbott, FBI, ATF, others speak about Austin bombings investigation

ATF Special Agent in Charge Fred Milanowski made the comments at a Wednesday afternoon news conference. FBI agent Chris Combs echoed Milanowski's sentiment, saying "we think we're on top of this, but we just don't know."

On Twitter, Austin police asked the public to "remain vigilant."

After bombing suspect Mark Conditt's death early Wednesday, authorities expressed concern there may be other package bombs circulating in public.

READ: What we know about Mark Conditt

"We don't know where this suspect has spent his last 24 hours, and therefore we still need to remain vigilant to ensure that no other packages or devices have been left to the community," Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said.

Mark Anthony Conditt, an unemployed college dropout, had been tracked down using store surveillance video, cellphone signals and witness accounts of a strange-looking customer making purchases in a disguise that included a blonde wig and gloves. His motive remained a mystery.

WATCH: Authorities provide updates on Austin bombing suspect

Police finally found the 23-year-old early Wednesday at a hotel in a suburb north of Austin known as the scene for filming portions of "Friday Night Lights." Officers prepared to move in for an arrest. When the suspect's sport utility vehicle began to drive away, they followed.

Conditt ran into a ditch on the side of the road, and SWAT officers approached. That's when he detonated a bomb inside the vehicle, Manley said.

Isaac Figueroa said he and his brother heard sirens and helicopters around 2 a.m. Wednesday in the area and drove toward them, then cut through nearby woods on foot after they hit a police roadblock.

The 26-year-old said they saw a sport utility vehicle that was pinned between large vans and "looked like it had been rammed off the road." He said police later deployed a robot to go examine the vehicle.

Authorities did not immediately say whether Conditt acted alone in the five bombings in the Texas capital and suburban San Antonio that killed two people and wounded four others. Each bomb that exploded had similar characteristics to them, creating a signature for the bomber, investigators said.

Confession found

Police have discovered a 25-minute recording on a cellphone found with bombing suspect Mark Conditt and Austin Police Chief Brian Manley says he considers it a "confession."

Manley says at a news conference that Conditt talks on the recording in great detail about the differences among the bombs he built.

He says that the tape is "the outcry of a very challenged young man."

As ATF officials were looking more closely at the items inside Conditt's residence, they said some of the components found there matched those signature characteristics.

Conditt grew up in Pflugerville, a suburb just northeast of Austin where he was still living after moving out of his parents' home. It's not far from the site of the first of the four package bombings -- a March 2 explosion that killed a 39-year-old man, Anthony House -- though it's unknown if Conditt knew any of the victims and authorities said the motive for the attacks remained unclear.

Little known about Conditt

Authorities released few details about the suspect, aside from his age, that he was white and that he was apparently unemployed. But online postings indicate he was home-schooled. He later attended Austin Community College from 2010 to 2012, but he did not graduate, according to a college spokeswoman.

His declared major was Business Administration and he took general education courses at ACC Northridge and Round Rock campuses.

He did not graduate and left ACC in 2012 in good academic standing, according to the college. He has not enrolled in courses at ACC in six years. As a part of a U.S. Government class project in 2012, Conditt created an online blog related to current national government topics.

ACC records indicate that no disciplinary actions were taken against Conditt.

The college said it continues to work with authorities on the investigation.

He worked for a time at an area manufacturing company and Gov. Greg Abbott told KXAN-TV in Austin that Conditt had no criminal record.

Abbott said the cellphone number of the Austin bombing suspect was of interest to law enforcement before he was captured on surveillance video at a FedEx store.

VIDEO:  Austin serial bombing suspect kills himself in explosion, police say

Abbott told reporters Wednesday that authorities used cellphone traffic data to put the suspect at the site of the explosions around Austin. He says the suspect's phone number drew the attention of investigators.

Abbott also said that among the items the suspect purchased at a Home Depot were five signs saying "CAUTION CHILDREN AT PLAY." He says he was told a tripwire that injured two men on Sunday in southwest Austin was tied to one of the signs, which would be consistent with what authorities have previously said about how the explosive was rigged.

Social media doesn't provide much help

Conditt left little discernable trace on social media. Aside from a few photos of him on his family's Facebook pages, he apparently made six entries on a personal blog in 2012 in which he addressed a range of topics. In those posts, a blogger identifying himself as Mark Conditt of Pflugerville wrote that gay marriage should be illegal. He also called for the elimination of sex offender registries and argued in favor of the death penalty. He described his interests as cycling, tennis and listening to music.

Of gay marriage, Conditt wrote: "Homosexuality is not natural. Just look at the male and female bodies. They are obviously designed to couple."

Jeff Reeb, a neighbor of Conditt's parents in Pflugerville for about 17 years, said he watched Conditt grow up and that he always seemed "smart" and "polite."

WATCH: New details on bombing suspect

Reeb, 75, said Conditt and his grandson played together into middle school and that Conditt regularly visited his parents, whom Reeb described as good neighbors.

Authorities said they recovered homemade explosives from inside Conditt's home.

The Austin Police Department and federal authorities said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that they were "working to safely remove and dispose of" the explosives at a home on Second Street in Pflugerville, just north of Austin.

Authorities evacuated four blocks around the home "in an abundance of caution."

Roommates questioned

Conditt was living with roommates a few miles from his parents' home and was in the process of gutting his home. He said Conditt's father, whom he referred to as Pat, worked as an Amway distributor and also bought electronics on the side to resell.

Investigators said one room in the home contained bomb components and explosive materials but no finished bombs. They were analyzing Conditt's internet history to find out how he learned to make bombs.

Authorities detained two people who lived with Conditt.

Austin police said Wednesday that one roommate was questioned and later released, while the second was still being held for questioning.

Authorities did not release the names of the roommates, explaining that they have not been placed under arrest.

Jay Schulze, who lives in Pflugerville, said he was jogging Tuesday night when he was stopped by police and asked about the bombings. He said police flew drones over Conditt's home for about six hours between Tuesday evening and early Wednesday morning.

Schulze described the home as "a weird house with a lot of people coming and going" and a bit rundown.

Conditt likely acted alone

Authorities said they believe Conditt made all of the bombs and that he likely acted alone, though they're still investigating whether he could have had help. He obtained at least some of his bomb-making materials from a Home Depot in Pflugerville, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, whose district includes the greater Austin area, told KXAN. They cautioned the public that there could still be package bombs that were planted in the 24 to 36 hours before Conditt's death and that people should report any suspicious packages.

The chairman of the U.S. House Homeland Security committee says authorities seem to think the Austin bombing suspect had "above average intelligence."

Republican Congressman Michael McCaul told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the suspect matched the FBI's initial profile suspicion that the bomber was likely a white male. But he says a psychological profile probably won't be known until investigators go through Conditt's writings and social media postings.

McCaul said the suspect bought nails and other bomb-making equipment at a Home Depot but bought batteries for the devices on the Internet.

FedEx assists with investigation

A top FedEx executive says the company provided key evidence that helped identify the suspect in the bombings around Austin.

Chief Operating Officer David Bronczek said in a note to employees that FedEx was able to give the information to law enforcement "because of our advanced security capabilities and the vigilance of our team members."

Bronczek did not describe the information that FedEx provided, and company representatives declined to comment further. But Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee, said the suspect's "fatal mistake" was mailing a package from a FedEx store because it gave authorities surveillance video that showed him and his vehicle, including the license plate number.

Conditt is suspected of sending the package that blew up on a conveyer belt in a FedEx facility in Schertz, Texas, and another parcel with an unexploded bomb that was discovered at a FedEx facility near the Austin airport.

Explosions rock Schertz, Austin FedEx facilities

On Tuesday, a bomb inside a package exploded around 1 a.m. as it passed along a conveyer belt at a FedEx shipping center in Schertz, northeast of San Antonio and about 60 miles (95 kilometers) southwest of Austin. One worker reported ringing in her ears and was treated at the scene.

Later in the morning, police sent a bomb squad to a FedEx facility outside the Austin airport to check on a suspicious package. Federal agencies and police later said that package had indeed contained an explosive that was successfully intercepted and that it, too, was tied to the other bombings.

Authorities also closed off an Austin-area FedEx store where they believe the bomb that exploded in Schertz was shipped. They roped off a large area around the shopping center in the enclave of Sunset Valley and were collecting evidence.

The Schertz blast came two days after a bombing wounded two men Sunday night in a quiet Austin neighborhood about 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the FedEx store. It was triggered by a nearly invisible tripwire, suggesting a "higher level of sophistication" than agents saw in three package bombs previously left on doorsteps, according to Fred Milanowski, the agent in charge of the Houston division of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Authorities have not identified the two men who were hurt Sunday, saying only that they are in their 20s and white. But William Grote told The Associated Press that his grandson was one of them and that he had what appeared to be nails embedded in his knees.

Bomber's friend offers insight

A friend of the suspected Austin bomber says he was an assertive person who would end up being "dominant and intimidating in conversation."

WATCH: New details on suspected bomber's past

Jeremiah Jensen tells the Austin American-Statesman that he was close to Conditt in 2012 and 2013. Jensen says they were both homeschooled in the same Pflugerville community and he would often go to the Conditt home for lunch after church on Sundays. He says they also attended Bible study and other activities together.

Jensen says, "I have no idea what caused him to make those bombs."

He says Conditt came from a good family, was athletic and a "deep thinker." He added that Conditt was "really rough around the edges" when they met.

Jensen says Conditt would "end up being kind of dominant and intimidating in conversation ... He really just wanted to tell the truth. What I remember about him he would push back on you if you said something without thinking about it."

Bomber's family breaks silence

Conditt's family says they are "devastated and broken" at the news of his involvement.

WATCH: Just in: Conditt's family releases statement through family friend

The Conditt family released a statement Wednesday afternoon expressing shock and grief, as well as offering their "prayers for those families who have lost loved ones ... and for the soul of our Mark."

Conditt's uncle, Mike Courtney, tells The Associated Press he doesn't "know that anybody saw this coming." Courtney described his nephew as a smart, intelligent and kind "computer geek."

The family's statement says they had "no idea of the darkness that Mark must have been in."

Here is a statement from the Conditt family, via CNN:

“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. Our family is a normal family in every way. We love, we pray, and we try to inspire and serve others. Right 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. We are grieving and we are in shock. Please respect our privacy as we deal with this terrible, terrible knowledge and try to support each other through this time.”

The bombs

On March 2, around 6:55 a.m., a 39-year-old was killed when a package exploded on his front porch in the 110 block of Haverford Drive.

On March 12, around 6:45 a.m., a 17-year-old was killed and his mother was injured when a package exploded outside their home in the 4800 block of Oldfort Hill Drive.

Also on March 12, around 11:50 a.m., a 75-year-old woman was injured when a package exploded outside her home in the 6700 block of Galindo Street.

On March 18, around 8:30 p.m., two men were injured when a trip wire triggered a bomb in the 4800 block of Dawn Song Drive.

On March 20, around 12:30 a.m., a package exploded at a FedEx facility in the 9900 block of Doerr Lane in Schertz.

Also March 20, around 6:20 a.m., police were able to interrupt a package that contained an explosive device at a FedEx facility in the 4100 block of McKinney Falls Parkway.

The victims

The first explosion killed 39-year-old Anthony Stephan House on March 2. The second blast on March 12 killed 17-year-old Draylen Mason. The third blast happened several hours later and critically injured a 75-year-old woman.

READ: Neighbor who tried to revive Austin victim calls bombing 'most traumatic thing in my life'

The three blasts all happened after explosives-laden packages were left on the victims' doorsteps.

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