‘Devastated’ family of Austin bomber unaware he was in ‘darkness’

By Art Moore

Austin bombing suspect Mark Anthony Conditt
Austin bombing suspect Mark Anthony Conditt

“Devastated” and “broken” relatives of suspected Austin bomber Mark Anthony Conditt expressed shock that he was behind the deadly attacks over the past three weeks, saying they had “no idea of the darkness” he was in.

Conditt, 23, blew himself up in his car in Round Rock, Texas, Wednesday morning as authorities closed in on him.

He lived with two roommates in a house near his parents in Pflugerville, Texas, a northern suburb of Austin.

Mark Conditt in a photo posted to his mother's Facebook page in 2013.
Mark Conditt in a photo posted to his mother’s Facebook page in 2013.

“We are devastated and broken at the news that our family member could be involved in such an awful way,” the family said in a statement issued to CNN.

The statement on behalf of the family came from a relative who lives in Colorado, not his parents.

“We had no idea of the darkness that Mark must have been in. Our family is a normal family in every way. We love, and we pray and, we try to inspire and serve others,” the statement said.

“Right now our prayers are for those families who 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 at this time.”

Neighbors have told reporters the Conditts were a “godly” Christian family that homeschooled their four children and held Bible studies in their home. They described Mark Conditt as a quiet, polite, “nerdy” boy who was not violent.

Early Wednesday, FBI and law-enforcement officials told reporters they still do not have a motive for the series of four attacks that still has the entire community on edge, with warnings of the possibility that explosive parcels are still in circulation.  Conditt is believed to be responsible for six bombs that killed at least two people and wounded five.

But at a news conference late Wednesday, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said Conditt recorded a 25-minute-long “confession” to his crimes on his phone, which was found in his possession after his confrontation with police. In the recording, he described creating seven devices, including one he blew up to kill himself “with a level of specificity,” including their differences, Manley said.

The police chief said the suspect did not mention “anything about terrorism, nor does he mention anything about hate.

The message, Manley said, is “the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his personal life.”

Manley said all seven devices have been found, but he said the community should “remain vigilant.”

Officers found Conditt’s car at a motel Tuesday night in Round Rock and followed him as he left early Wednesday morning. When the suspect apparently discovered he was being followed, he drove into a ditch and detonated a bomb inside of his car as officers approached. A police officer also was seriously injured in the explosion, and his condition is unknown.

Mark Conditt blew himself up at the edge of a service road on I-35 in Round Rock, Texas, as police approach him March 21, 2108.
Mark Conditt blew himself up at the edge of a service road on I-35 in Round Rock, Texas, as police approach him March 21, 2018.

Police, still concerned that live bombs remain, barricaded an area up to six blocks around Conditt’s home, including city hall, and evacuated residents Wednesday morning.

Authorities said the suspect purchased bomb-making materials, including nails and battery packs, at a Home Depot near his house.

Police were able to find Conditt using a variety of tactics, including cell-site analysis and high-tech computing systems that can find patterns of callers in certain areas.

Surveillance footage from a South Austin FedEx office Sunday, which showed the suspect wearing a blonde wig and latex gloves, enabled authorities to identify him Tuesday night. Police then went to his home and obtained information from his Google history and computer that showed he was searching for places to ship the devices.

Conditt turned on his cellphone hours before he was found, which led authorities to his location.

Late Wednesday, officials said investigators discovered that Conditt had a list of future targets and had set up a room in his home to manufacture bombs.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler praised law enforcement effort in an interview with NBC’s “Today” show.

“As a community, we’re just really relieved and just incredibly thankful for this army of law enforcement that has been in our community for the last week or so,” he said.

He noted, however, that law enforcement officials were warning residents to remain alert.

“This is the culmination of three very long weeks for our community,” Manley said. “We still need to remain vigilant to ensure no other packages or devices have been left in the community.”

Authorities initially suspected the bombings were hate crimes because the first two victims were black. But the victims in subsequent attacks were Hispanic and white.

President Trump tweeted Wednesday: “AUSTIN BOMBING SUSPECT IS DEAD. Great job by law enforcement and all concerned!”

Governor: We believe he acted alone

Early Wednesday, Austin Police Chief Manley confirmed the suspect was killed in the blast and said he believed him to be the person responsible for the package bombings in the city that began March 2.

Anthony Stephan House, 39, was killed March 2 after opening a package delivered to his Austin home.
Anthony Stephan House, 39, was killed March 2 after opening a package delivered to his Austin home.

“We don’t know if he was on his way to deliver another bomb, but we know he had one on him,” Manley said.

The first three packages, beginning March 2, were left on the doorsteps of homes in Austin. The most recent incident took place Sunday at a FedEx distribution facility northeast of San Antonio when two people were injured by a device containing nails and metal. It is believed to have been set off with a tripwire.

The first attack killed 39-year-old Stephan House. Draylen Mason, 17, was killed 10 days later in an explosion that also critically injured his mother. In a separate attack, a 75-year-old Hispanic woman, Esperanza Herrera, was injured.

The CBS affiliate in Austin reported a package dropped off at a FedEx office by the bomber used the fake name “Kelly Killmore” and a phony address in South Austin.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday Conditt had no known military experience or a criminal record, and it’s believed he acted alone.

However, he told Fox News “we need to go throughout the day to make sure that we rule out whether there was anybody else involved in this process.”

Fred Milanowski, the agent in charge of the Houston division of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told the ABC affiliate in Houston it was “hard to say” if the suspect had acted alone.

“What we do know is we believe the same person built each one of these devices,” he said. “We are not 100 percent convinced there’s not other devices out there.”

A former ATF agent, Hector Tarango, told CBSDFW.com he suspects Conditt had an accomplice, similar to the D.C. sniper, who carried out a series of coordinated shootings during three weeks in 2002.

Roommates questioned

Austin police said they detained two of Conditt’s roommates as part of their investigation, the Austin Statesman reported.

The paper said one roommate was questioned and released, and the other was still being questioned Wednesday afternoon.

A CCTV camera captured Conditt dressed in a disguise at a FedEx office Sunday with two packages.
A CCTV camera captured Conditt dressed in a disguise at a FedEx store Sunday in South Austin with two packages.

Conditt was living a few miles from his parents’ home and was in the process of gutting his house, the Associated Press reported.

Jeff Reeb, a neighbor of Conditt’s parents in Pflugerville for about 17 years, described Conditt as “smart” and “polite,” the AP said.

Reeb said Conditt’s parents were “good neighbors” and noted Conditt regularly visited them. The neighbor said Condit’s father is an Amway distributor and also buys electronics for resale.

Conditt apparently had little presence on social media. A 2012 blog related to a U.S. government class at Austin Community College that appears to have been written by Conditt opined that sex offender registries should be eliminated and that gay marriage should be illegal.

The introduction to the blog, titled “Defining my Stance,” states: “My name is Mark Conditt. I enjoy cycling, parkour, tennis, reading, and listening to music. I am not that politically inclined. I view myself as a conservative, but I don’t think I have enough information to defend my stance as well as it should be defended. The reasons I am taking this class is because I want to understand the US government, and I hope that it will help me clarify my stance, and then defend it.”

Homeschooled kid from ‘godly family’

Donna Sebastian Harp, who had known the family for nearly 18 years, told the New York Times Conditt was a “nerdy” young man who came from a “tight-knit, godly family.”

Mark Conditt's Austin Community College ID photo (KXAN.com)
Mark Conditt’s Austin Community College ID photo (KXAN.com)

She said he was the oldest of four children who had all been homeschooled by their mother.

“He was always kind of quiet,” she said. “He was a nerd, always reading, devouring books and computers and things like that.”

Harp said there was “no violent-type activity.”

“He was always gentle and quiet.”

BuzzFeed News cited an acquaintance of Conditt’s, who did not wish to be identified, who said she and Conditt were in the same homeschool community in Pflugerville between the ages of 8 and 13.

She said she had playdates with Conditt, who “seemed like a regular boy who liked to have fun and play games,” BuzzFeed reported.

“His family seemed very nice,” she said. “I was completely shocked when I heard — I had no idea it would be someone I knew.”

The Houston Chronicle spoke with a man it did not name who worked with Conditt’s father and spent time at the family’s home.

He described the Conditts as a “very conservative” and “loving” family didn’t want their children to see “the bad stuff in society.”

“It was a very ‘us versus them’ type of household,” he said. “I’m guessing that was a catalyst that led Mark to believe what he thought.”

The man said he regularly attended get-togethers at the Conditt home he said were “not a cult” but may have been mistaken for one.

“They were always mentoring us on how to raise our family and how to be good parents to our kids in the society they lived in,” he told the Houston paper.

“They were always trying to help people achieve more, as long as it fell in line with what they believed in.”

A long-time neighbor confirmed to the Chronicle the family was known on the street for their large religious gatherings at home every Sunday.

“I don’t know if it was a Bible study or a church service,” said the neighbor. “They just always had a bunch of kids there all the time.”

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