PFLUGERVILLE, Texas – A serial bomber whose family describes him as shrouded in mysterious "darkness" left a 25-minute video confession on his cellphone, claiming responsibility for murder and creating widespread panic.
Austin Police Chief Bryan Manley said law enforcement recovered the confession made by Mark Anthony Conditt while scouring through his possessions. Conditt, a 23-year-old unemployed college dropout, blew himself up early Wednesday as a SWAT team closed in.
Manley said Conditt recorded himself confessing to the bombings, taking time to describe the different explosives he used in elaborate detail. The chief said the recording represents "the outcry of a very challenged young man."
All seven devices that Conditt described in the recording, including the bomb he used to kill himself, have been recovered by law enforcement. But authorities are still urging caution.
"He does not at all mention anything about terrorism, nor does he mention anything about hate," said Manley, who noted that the recording was made on Tuesday night between 9 and 11 p.m., when Conditt felt “like we were getting very close to him.”
“Sometimes we can't assign a reason to irrational acts,” he said. “This is a very troubled young man who was talking about challenges in his life that led him to the point in his life that led him to take the actions that he took.”
The recording did not reveal why Conditt targeted the addresses he did.
The revelation about the confession comes after police searched Conditt's home and found a trove of bomb materials that so alarmed them that they evacuated a four-block area to avoid more death or injury.
Conditt died in a ditch near Round Rock after detonating a bomb as two SWAT team members advanced on his vehicle.
Authorities have not given any indication of an obvious motive for the attacks. They were also unsure whether Conditt acted alone in making and delivering the five bombs in the Texas capital and suburban San Antonio that killed two people and wounded four others since March 2.
Christopher Combs, special agent in charge of the FBI's San Antonio office, said “a considerable amount” of bomb-making apparatus was found in one room in the suspect’s house. No fully made explosive devices were found.
Asked if the threat to public safety has lifted, Combs replied, “Stay vigilant.”
Combs said the law enforcement partnerships present on the ground in Austin helped them stop the suspect as early as they did.
"If we had not found this man, I think we all believe fairly certainly that there would have been more devices and more innocent civilians would have been hurt and would have been killed," he said.
Combs said he watched video footage of the police chase early Wednesday, when officers were trailing the suspect.
"You literally had Austin police officers running towards a vehicle that had an explosive device in it that detonated," he said. "That is unbelievable courage. Those are heroes."
Some of Conditt's family members issued a statement.
“We are devastated and broken at the news that our family could be involved in such an awful way. We had no idea of the darkness that Mark must have been in,” the family said. “Our family is a normal family in every way. We love, we pray, and we try to inspire and serve others. Right now our prayers are for those families that have lost loved ones, for those impacted in any way, and for the soul of our Mark."
Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said officials were prepared to charge the person behind the Austin bombings with capital murder and seek the death penalty.
"You can never call this a happy ending, but it's a damn good one," she said.
Federal agents who descended on Conditt's frame house in Pflugerville detained two of his roommates before letting one go.
Inside, according to a statement by FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Austin Police, they found the cache of bomb materials before they cleared an area around the house "in an abundance of caution."
Authorities also warned residents of the Austin area that Conditt may have also planted or mailed other explosive devices during the last 24 hours.
After zeroing in on Conditt as the prime suspect, police in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday located his vehicle outside a hotel in Round Rock, about 20 miles north of Austin. They moved into the area in force, but awaited the arrival of beefed-up tactical teams in hopes of taking Conditt alive.
Instead, Conditt's vehicle began to leave the parking lot, with police in pursuit. When the vehicle went into a ditch, Conditt detonated the explosive device inside as two SWAT team members approached.
One officer was knocked back by the explosion, suffering minor injuries, while a second fired on the suspect, who died of "significant injuries" from the blast, said Austin Police Chief Bryan Manley.
A federal arrest warrant filed Tuesday in federal court accused Conditt, who lived near his parents in the community of Pflugerville north of Austin, of "receiving, possessing or transferring a destructive device." Details of the complaint remained sealed Wednesday.
Surveillance video from a FedEx drop-off location north of San Antonio, where the suspect was allegedly seen entering with a package, captured images of Conditt wearing a blond wig and hat while bringing his packages in for delivery.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters that authorities knew Conditt's cellphone number before they knew his name and used information from phone towers to tie the number to the location of the bombings and track his movements.
Abbott also said the suspect bought bomb-making materials at a Home Depot, where he also picked up five signs that read: "Caution, children at play."
Chris Combs, head of the FBI's San Antonio office, said the agency was concerned there may be other packages still out there.
Manley said authorities feared additional devices in the area because they "don't know where the suspect has been the past 24 hours" before they zeroed in on him.
Investigators noted he researched addresses online in Cedar Park and Austin and apparently was aiming to use them as targets, KVUE reported, quoting sources close to the investigation.
Conditt, who was unemployed, attended Austin Community College's Northridge Campus as a business major from 2010 to 2012, but did not graduate. He worked at Crux Semiconductor in Austin, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
In posts written in 2012 for a college course, a blogger identifying himself as Mark Conditt said he enjoyed "cycling, parkour, tennis, reading, and listening to music."
"I am not that politically inclined," he wrote. "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."
A close high school friend, Jeremiah Jensen, 24, told the American-Statesman that Conditt was a "deep thinker" but a "little rough around the edges."
“He was a very assertive person and would ... end up being kind of dominant and intimidating in conversation," Jensen told the newspaper. "A lot of people didn’t understand him and where he was coming from. He really just wanted to tell the truth. What I remember about him he would push back on you if you said something without thinking about it. He loved to think and argue and turn things over and figure out what was really going on.”
Conditt and his father, Pat Conditt, bought a house last year in Pflugerville, Texas, where he had been living.
A neighbor, Mark Roessler, said Conditt was a familiar sight in the community and would return his wave from across the street.
The suspect and his father were rehabbing their house, Roessler said. He knew the dad better than the son and described the older Conditt as devoted father and a good man.
Troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety and agents with the ATF cordoned off several blocks in the neighborhood around the house Wednesday morning.
Fralen Allen, who works nearby, said he was stunned that the quiet community would be a crime scene. “I’m sickened,” she said. “Surely in hindsight someone must have known and maybe this could have been prevented.”
Officially, Manley declined to identify the suspect, describing him only as a white man. He said officers were tipped to his involvement 36 hours earlier.
Fred Milanowski, agent in charge of the ATF’s Houston Field Division, said investigators believe the dead suspect built all four of the package bombs that terrorized Austin since March 2. The explosives killed two people and seriously wounded four others. A fifth parcel bomb detonated at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio early Tuesday.
NBC News reported a key part of the puzzle was the discovery of an "exotic" and foreign battery in each explosive, which helped authorities tie the bombings together.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler thanked law enforcement for their work in bringing down the suspect and urged residents to continue to report anything that appeared suspicious or out of place.
“We’re just really relieved and just incredibly thankful for this army of law enforcement that has been in our community here for the last week or so,” he said on NBC’s Today show.
President Trump tweeted: "AUSTIN BOMBING SUSPECT IS DEAD. Great job by law enforcement and all concerned!"
Stanglin reported from Arlington, Va. Contributing: Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY.