Ad­dress on pack­age may add to Austin mys­tery

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY EVA RUTH MORAVEC, ELI ROSEN­BERG, MARK BER­MAN AND MATT ZAPOTOSKY

AUSTIN — The third pack­age to ex­plode in Austin this month, se­verely in­jur­ing a 75-year-old woman, was ad­dressed to a dif­fer­ent home nearby, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion — adding a wrin­kle to in­ves­ti­ga­tors’ ef­forts to iden­tify who is re­spon­si­ble for leav­ing so­phis­ti­cated bombs on the doorsteps of un­sus­pect­ing res­i­dents.

The FBI and po­lice have not iden­ti­fied a sus­pect or mo­tive be­hind the at­tacks, and the clues re­vealed pub­licly have only deep­ened the mys­tery.

The two peo­ple killed in the ex­plo­sions, a 39-year-old con­struc­tion worker and a 17-year-old high school stu­dent, had rel­a­tives who were good friends and prom­i­nent mem­bers of Austin’s African Amer­i­can com­mu­nity, lead­ing fam­ily mem­bers to spec­u­late that they were tar­geted, per­haps in part be­cause of their race.

But a vic­tim in the third at­tack, the 75-year-old His­panic woman, had no ap­par­ent con­nec­tions to the other two. The woman, Esper­anza Her­rera, was vis­it­ing her

mother’s house, and peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the case said the pack­age she picked up was ad­dressed to a dif­fer­ent home.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors have been por­ing over the vic­tims’ back­grounds and the con­struc­tion of the bombs, hop­ing to find a clue that might lead them to the per­son or peo­ple re­spon­si­ble. The FBI sent be­hav­ioral pro­fil­ers from Quan­tico, Va., as well as bomb tech­ni­cians and ev­i­dence teams, said Christo­pher Combs, spe­cial agent in charge of the bureau’s San An­to­nio of­fice.

Po­lice warned Austin res­i­dents to be wary when ap­proach­ing pack­ages left at their doorsteps and said they had re­ceived 265 calls about sus­pi­cious pack­ages be­tween Mon­day and Tues­day af­ter­noon. None were deemed to be dan­ger­ous or re­lated to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Austin Po­lice Chief Brian Man­ley said Tues­day that po­lice were not rul­ing any­thing out in the case, in­clud­ing that the at­tacks could have been mo­ti­vated by racial ha­tred or ter­ror­ism. He said that who­ever is be­hind the at­tacks has been able to con­struct and de­liver deadly bombs without set­ting them off at any point in that process, which shows some level of bomb­mak­ing prow­ess.

“When the vic­tims have picked these pack­ages up, they have at that point ex­ploded,” Man­ley said dur­ing an ap­pear­ance Tues­day morn­ing on KXAN, an Austin tele­vi­sion sta­tion. “There’s a cer­tain level of skill and so­phis­ti­ca­tion that who­ever is do­ing this has.”

He said the city would of­fer a $50,000 re­ward for in­for­ma­tion lead­ing to an ar­rest in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, on top of the $15,000 re­ward an­nounced by Gov. Greg Ab­bott (R) a day ear­lier.

“We need to put a stop to this be­fore any­body else in our com­mu­nity is se­ri­ously in­jured or killed,” Man­ley said.

The bomb­ings come at a time when Austin is del­uged by tens of thou­sands of vis­i­tors for the South by South­west fes­ti­val. Of­fi­cials have said they do not see any con­nec­tion be­tween the bomb­ings and the fes­ti­val, although for some, their re­as­sur­ances are hard to stom­ach.

Af­ter the first bomb ex­ploded on March 2, killing 39-year-old An­thony Stephan House, po­lice said it ap­peared to be an iso­lated in­ci­dent with no con­tin­u­ing threat to the com­mu­nity. Then, on Mon­day, two more bombs went off.

House, a con­struc­tion worker, was mar­ried with an 8-year-old daugh­ter. His step­fa­ther, Fred­die Dixon, said Mon­day that the girl was inside the home when the ex­plo­sion oc­curred. He said he was dis­ap­pointed with how po­lice had ini­tially char­ac­ter­ized it.

“Now, all of a sud­den, they got to back up,” Dixon said in an in­ter­view Mon­day.

Dur­ing a Tues­day news con­fer­ence, Man­ley said that law en­force­ment’s work­ing the­ory af­ter House’s death was that the in­ci­dent was re­lated to a raid po­lice had con­ducted three days ear­lier on an ap­par­ent drug stash house on the street where House lived.

He said House’s home was sim­i­lar in color to the house that was raided and had sim­i­lar ve­hi­cles parked out­side. In­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieved the bomb there might have been a “re­tal­ia­tory act” for the po­lice raid and that the pre­sumed re­tal­ia­tor had got­ten the wrong house, Man­ley said.

Dixon said he was good friends with Nor­man Ma­son, the grand­fa­ther of the 17-year-old killed in the first ex­plo­sion early Mon­day morn­ing. Ma­son’s grand­son, Draylen Ma­son, was a se­nior at East Austin Col­lege Prep, where he was well known for his love of mu­sic. His mother was also in­jured in the blast, and Man­ley said Tues­day that she was in sta­ble con­di­tion.

“He was amaz­ing, so pas­sion­ate and very well rounded,” said ju­nior Eli Her­nan­dez, 17, who con­sid­ered Draylen Ma­son some­thing of a role model. “Ev­ery­one could see he had a bright fu­ture with mu­sic.”

School cus­to­dian Dennis Govea said Ma­son played stand-up bass and was in a mari­achi band. In pho­tos from the school’s 2015- 2016 year­book, Ma­son is pic­tured tak­ing part in the Austin Sound­waves, a His­panic Al­liance mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram; on a school field trip to Thai­land; and grin­ning in his class photo. In 10th grade, Ma­son and two other class­mates were named “most likely to be fa­mous.”

“A lot of kids are go­ing to be hurt­ing,” Govea said. “We’re sure go­ing to miss him here.”

Doug Demp­ster, dean of the Univer­sity of Texas at Austin’s Col­lege of Fine Arts, said in a writ­ten state­ment that Ma­son was “the very most re­mark­able tal­ent in a most re­mark­able youth or­ches­tra pro­gram,” re­fer­ring to Austin Sound­waves. He said he had watched Ma­son blos­som for years and “knew he had the chops to study mu­sic in col­lege.”

Demp­ster said he ex­pected Ma­son to at­tend the univer­sity in the fall.

“He was ev­ery inch a mu­si­cian,” he said in a state­ment. “He car­ried him­self with a kind of quiet matu rity that be­lied his youth. At Sound Waves per­for­mances one could of­ten see him lean­ing in to lead and coach younger and more ten­ta­tive play­ers. His gen­tle con­fi­dence seemed to come from a con­vic­tion that hard work and tal­ent was go­ing to work for him. It did.”

Dixon said his step­son did not know Ma­son, but he said he couldn’t help but won­der whether his own con­nec­tion with Ma­son’s grand­fa­ther was some­how im­por­tant. He said he was once the pas­tor at Wes­ley United Methodist Church, which Nor­man Ma­son at­tended, and the two were long­time friends and fra­ter­nity broth­ers.

“It’s not just co­in­ci­den­tal,” Dixon said. “Some­body’s done their home­work on both of us, and they knew what they were do­ing.”

Asked about his the­ory of the crime Mon­day, Dixon said: “My di­ag­no­sis: Num­ber one, I think it’s a hate crime. Num­ber two, some­body’s got some kind of vendetta here.”

Of the bomb that in­jured Her­rera, he said, “Is she a di­ver­sion to throw this off and lead to some­thing else?”

The Washington Post could not im­me­di­ately learn whether the pack­ages that killed Ma­son and House bore any mark­ings, such as the ad­dress on the one that in­jured Her­rera. Po­lice were still re­spond­ing to the bomb that killed Ma­son when an­other one went off at the home Her­rera was vis­it­ing, au­thor­i­ties have said.

Her­rera re­mained in crit­i­cal con­di­tion with life-threat­en­ing in­juries Tues­day, Man­ley said. Rel­a­tives and neigh­bors said she had been vis­it­ing her mother, Maria Moreno, and of­ten stayed in her home overnight to help pro­vide care. The sig­nif­i­cance of the pack­age left at that home bear­ing the wrong ad­dress was not im­me­di­ately clear.

Jesse Barba, 77, a neighbor of Her­rera’s, said he rarely saw Her­rera, be­cause “she was al­ways help­ing out with her mother.”

“She used to come by and pick roses from my yard to take to her mother,” Barba said. “She loved them so much I gave her a piece of the bush.”

The site of the blast was still roped off with po­lice tape on both ends of Galindo Street on Tues­day, and po­lice were not let­ting any­one but res­i­dents pass through. Tele­vi­sion trucks and re­porters amassed at the street’s west en­trance, where an FBI truck and an Austin Po­lice Depart­ment cruiser sat.

Com­mu­nity or­ga­niz­ers said they planned an event Fri­day night to dis­cuss what has been hap­pen­ing and po­ten­tially talk about rais­ing money for more cam­eras in east Austin.

“Peo­ple are an­gry and afraid,” Fa­tima Mann, an or­ga­nizer, said Tues­day. “I refuse for peo­ple to have to go through life afraid be­cause they don’t know if they’ll be next. This is an is­sue that should have been dealt with when the first ex­plo­sion went off.”

ILANA PANICH-LINSMAN FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

A day af­ter a pack­age ex­ploded at the house at left, in­ves­ti­ga­tors in Austin ex­am­ine the roof of a neigh­bor­ing home. Esper­anza Her­rera, 75, who was vis­it­ing her mother when she was in­jured in the ex­plo­sion, re­mained in crit­i­cal con­di­tion with life-threat­en­ing in­juries Tues­day.

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