Tess Hemmila–Staff Writer
Austin has been deeply shaken in the past few weeks due to a series of bombings throughout the city. Between Mar. 2 and Mar. 20, five bombs were detonated by a serial bomber, with most of the bombs strategically placed for victims to find. After five incidents, there was a final explosion, in which the suspect took his own life by detonating a bomb inside his own vehicle after being pursued by police.
The bombings are of national significance, but the incidents also have local repercussions for the Dordt College community. Approximately 25 students on campus hail from Texas. One of these students is freshman Demetrius Rowser, who says that he has family in Austin, including a niece.
Rowser said that when the attacks were ongoing, he spent his time “just hoping they wouldn’t be the next house to get a package on their doorstep.”
In addition, one of the nine Putting Love Into Action groups had been assigned to go to Austin before bombings began. Thus, a group of Dordt students were in Austin on their PLIA trip during several of the bombings.
Despite the ongoing attacks and investigation as the group set out, the PLIA group did not allow their willingness to serve the community to change.
According to senior Sam Roskamp, very little of their schedule was affected during the trip to Austin. Although the bombs were fairly centralized to Austin, Roskamp said that because “Austin is a large city, the events on one side don’t necessarily affect life on the other.”
Some of the members of the trip, however, naturally had concerns about being so close to the bombings.
“It was shocking and nerve-wracking that we were fairly close to it,” said sophomore Lexi Van Surksum. But the group had purpose for being there so they stayed focused on their goal.
Still, Rowser feels that the attacks have had an effect on the community of Austin and Texas as a whole.
“People are having to question and be cautious with every package in hopes that it won’t be the last package they open,” he said.
The first three bombs were in boxes placed by the houses of the victims. The first bomb was placed on a victim’s porch on Mar. 2. The victim died when the bomb exploded after he handled the package. The following two attacks were both carried out on Mar. 12, in which the deadly packages were also placed near victims’ houses. The earlier attack seriously injured one woman when she unknowingly handled the package, and the following attack injured a mother and killed her son when it detonated inside her house.
For the remaining two bombs, a different tactic was used. On Mar. 18, one bomb was placed—seemingly randomly—by a sidewalk and detonated via tripwire. The explosion injured two men in their 20s. Then, on Mar. 20, another package detonated in a FedEx center, injuring an employee. Luckily, another bomb was discovered and disarmed in a separate FedEx center.
Later that day, there was a final explosion, in which the suspect took his own life by detonating a bomb inside his own vehicle after being pursued by police.
The suspect, 23-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt, was discovered after police found surveillance footage of Conditt dropping off two packages at a FedEx store, according to the New York Times. The footage was used to identify Conditt’s vehicle, a red 2002 Ford Ranger. The car did not have license plates, but the police were able to compile a list of registered vehicles matching the car’s description. Officials were also able to connect Conditt because of his previous Home Depot purchase of pink gloves, which he is seen wearing in the surveillance footage.
According to CNN, Conditt made a 25-minute video confession on his phone before he was pursued by police. In the video, he provides details about the bombs but does not explain his actions or what motivated him to do what he did.
“It’s the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about the challenges in his life that led him to this point,” said Austin Police Chief Brian Manley.