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Fifth explosion reported in Texas as police say a ‘serial bomber’ likely at large

Police said the device was seemingly headed for Austin.

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley (L), ATF Special Agent in Charge Fred Milanowski, and FBI Agent Christopher Combs brief reporters during a press conference on March 19, 2018,  in Austin, Texas.
CREDIT: SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP/Getty Images
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley (L), ATF Special Agent in Charge Fred Milanowski, and FBI Agent Christopher Combs brief reporters during a press conference on March 19, 2018, in Austin, Texas. CREDIT: SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP/Getty Images

A fifth explosion in Texas in the dawning hours of Tuesday morning outside of San Antonio and seemingly bound for Austin has further heightened area concerns that a “serial bomber” is behind a series of deadly attacks in the area.

According to the San Antonio Police Department, a package bomb headed for Austin exploded at a FedEx distribution center in Schertz, Texas around 12:25 a.m. but caused no injuries. The parcel reportedly blasted nails and shrapnel out when it exploded. Law enforcement indicated the package appeared to have also been sent from Austin.

“We can confirm that a single package exploded while in a FedEx Ground sortation facility early this morning,” a FedEx spokesperson told CBS. “One team member is being treated for minor injuries. We are working closely with law enforcement in their investigation.  We are not providing any additional specific information about this package at this time.” (Comments from officials later indicated that the team member in fact suffered no injuries.)

The explosion came little more than a day after a fourth bombing rocked the Texas capital. On Sunday night, two men were injured while passing a roadside package bomb, apparently triggering tripwire. The explosion briefly shut down the Travis County neighborhood in southwest Austin and sparked concern among residents. Law enforcement officials told reporters Monday morning that the city is working with FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents to locate the perpetrator, but that the latest bombing showed “a higher level of sophistication, a higher level of skill.”

“We are clearly dealing with what we expect to be a serial bomber,” said interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley.

That explosion — the fourth in a month within the city — offered a number of differences from the initial three bombings proceeding it. The first bombings killed two people, 39-year-old Anthony Stephan House and 17-year-old Draylen Mason, in addition to injuring two others. The bombs, left at homes in Austin’s historically segregated and lower-income eastern side, seemed to target Latinx and Black residents. Both of the victims killed came from prominent Black families that “have a long history and go to the same church,” according to Nelson Linder, who heads the local NAACP chapter.

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Austin is majority non-white with a large Latinx community comprising almost 35 percent of the city’s population (Black residents are around 8 percent). That reality is weighing heavily on communities of color in the city, something Police Chief Manley acknowledged after the initial bombings as the city announced it would investigate the incidents as a potential hate crime.

“We cannot ignore that [the victims were all people of color],” he said. “That is something we have to pay attention to. That does not indicate that it’s a hate crime. But we’re not going to rule that out because we don’t want to limit anything that we’re considering.”

While the first bombings appeared targeted, police said the incident on Sunday indicated a new level of randomness. Both of the men injured in the fourth explosion are white and the tripwire could have harmed anyone passing by the area.

“What we have seen here is a significant change from what appeared to be three targeted attacks to an attack that could have harmed anyone,” Manley said Monday morning.

If officially linked to the other incidents, the fifth bombing marks the first explosion outside of the city, albeit one en route to Austin.

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“We are investigating it as being possibly related to our open investigation,” FBI spokesperson Michelle Lee told the Austin American-Statesman. “We can’t know for sure until we have an opportunity to look at the evidence itself.”

Manley, meanwhile, advised city residents to continue to practice caution and to keep police apprised of any suspicious activity.

“I want to continue to remind our community to pay close attention to any suspicious device whether it be a package, a bag, a backpack or anything that looks out of place, do not approach it,” said the police chief. “Call 911 immediately. Also remember do not move, touch or open unexpected/suspicious packages.”

Officials are offering up to $115,000 in exchange for any information leading to the arrest of the parties behind the bombings.

This article has been updated with new information following statements from law enforcement. An update reflected San Antonio Police Chief William McManus’ comments that a second device had been found — McManus later retracted those comments.