Fear mounts in Austin as serial bomber uses tripwire
Austin, Texas – The hunt for the serial bomber who has been leaving deadly explosives in packages on Austin doorsteps took an even more sinister turn Monday when investigators said the fourth and latest blast was triggered along a street by a nearly invisible tripwire.
Police and federal agents said that suggests a “higher level of sophistication” than they have seen before, and means the carnage is now random, rather than targeted at someone in particular. Underscoring that point, a relative says the most-recent explosion left what appeared to be nails stuck in his grandson’s knees.
“The game went up a little bit – well, it went up a lot yesterday with the tripwire,” Christopher Combs, FBI agent in charge of the bureau’s San Antonio division, said in an interview.
Two people have now been killed and four wounded in bombings over a span of less than three weeks.
The latest happened Sunday night in southwest Austin’s quiet Travis Country neighborhood, wounding two men in their 20s who were walking in the dark. They suffered what police said were significant injuries and remained hospitalized in stable condition.
Police haven’t identified the victims, but William Grote told The Associated Press that his grandson was one of them, saying he is cognizant but still in a lot of pain. Grote said one of them was riding a bike in the street and the other was on a sidewalk when they crossed a tripwire that he said knocked “them both off their feet.”
“It was so dark they couldn’t tell and they tripped,” Grote said. “They didn’t see it. It was a wire. And it blew up.”
Grote said his son, who lives about 100 yards away from the blast, heard the explosion and raced outside.
That was a departure from the three earlier bombings, which involved parcels left on doorsteps that detonated when moved or opened.
The tripwire twist heightened the fear around Austin.
“It’s creepy,” said Erin Mays, 33. “I’m not a scared person, but this feels very next-door-neighbor kind of stuff.”
Authorities repeated prior warnings about not touching unexpected packages and also issued new ones to be wary of any stray object left in public, especially one with wires protruding.
“We’re very concerned that with tripwires, a child could be walking down a sidewalk and hit something,” Combs said.
Investigators are looking at a variety of possible motives, including domestic terrorism or a hate crime. Local and state police and hundreds of federal agents are investigating, and the reward for information leading to an arrest has climbed to $115,000.
“We are clearly dealing with what we believe to be a serial bomber at this point,” Austin police chief Brian Manley said, citing similarities among the four bombs. He would not elaborate, though, saying he didn’t want to undermine the investigation.
While the first three bombings all occurred east of Interstate 35, a section of town that tends to be more heavily minority and less affluent, Sunday’s was west of the highway. Also, both victims this time are white, while those killed or wounded in the earlier attacks were black or Hispanic.
Those differences made it harder to draw conclusions about a possible pattern, further unnerving a city on edge.
Spring break ended Monday for the University of Texas and many area school districts. University police warned returning students to be alert.