Someone is placing deadly package bombs at front doors of Texas homes, and police say they could be hate crimes
In three cases, a package was left at the front of a residence and exploded after an unsuspecting victim picked it up or tried to open it
US federal authorities have joined Austin police in investigating a mysterious string of three bombings in 10 days that have left two people in Texas dead and three wounded after opening packages left at their doors.
The explosions came as Austin, the state capital and a metropolis of two million people, welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors for the massive South by Southwest entertainment and media festival.
A 17-year-old was killed early Monday after bringing a package into his home and opening it, while a woman living at the same address was injured.
A second explosion later in the morning left an elderly woman in critical condition, after she was injured picking up a package in front of her home, police said.
The twin bombings followed an initial blast on March 2, when a 39-year-old man was killed – also after opening a parcel bomb.
“This again is the third in what we believe to be related incidents over the past 10 days,” Austin police chief Brian Manley said.
The Texas governor’s office offered a US$15,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case.
“I want to assure all Texans, and especially those in Austin, that local, state and federal law enforcement officials are working diligently to find those responsible for these heinous crimes,” Governor Greg Abbott said.
Investigators have found no evidence so far of a terrorism link, and have yet to establish a definite motive or profile for the bomber, Manley said.
Police were considering whether racial hatred was a factor.
“We have had two victims that were African American, and the victim of this latest incident was a 75-year-old Hispanic female,” the police chief said.
“So, we are still working to identify whether that may play a role, but we are not going to rule that out.”
Michelle Lee, a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is aiding in the probe, said: “Nothing had been ruled out in terms of motive.”
If you receive a package that you are not expecting or looks suspicious, DO NOT open it, call 911 immediately. RT- Help us spread this message. https://t.co/j9bxbaaBce
— Chief Brian Manley (@chief_manley) March 12, 2018
.@chief_manley advising everyone in Austin to be cautious if they receive a package and weren't expecting one. If you see something suspicious please dial 9-1-1 so we can send officers out to assist you. #safety #austinpd #atx pic.twitter.com/hA7Tv0bT0E
— Austin Police Dept (@Austin_Police) March 12, 2018
Authorities say the packages, described as unremarkable looking boxes, were left overnight and not sent through the mail or any other delivery service.
Austin police probed the bomb blasts as some 500,000 attendees from nearly 100 countries were in Austin for South by Southwest – a sprawling event that features concerts, corporate presentations and film screenings.
Tesla founder Elon Musk, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, one-time presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and music producer Nile Rodgers are among the top speakers.
The festival’s official Twitter account posted a statement saying the organisation was “heartbrosusopken by the explosions in Austin earlier this month and today. Our thoughts are with the victims and those affected.”
The police chief urged festival attendees to “be aware of what’s going on.”
Residents have been warned to avoid opening unexpected items left at their doorsteps and to report anything suspicious to police.
The request led to several calls to authorities, Manley said, but none uncovered anything suspicious.
The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms said a national response team would join Austin police in the investigation.
Tribune News Service, Agence France-Presse, Reuters