The Austin Police Department reported late Tuesday evening via Twitter that an explosion in Austin, seriously injuring a man in the blast, was an incendiary device, and not related to previous package bombs.
Law enforcement and emergency medical personnel responded to the incident at Brodie and W. Slaughter lanes, not far from where authorities have been investigating a package bomb found and defused Tuesday at a FedEx facility in a Sunset Valley shopping center.
Investigators were on the scene Tuesday morning at a FedEx package sorting facility in Schertz, a suburb of San Antonio, following the fifth in a series of bomb explosions that began terrorizing Austin residents earlier this month.
The package bomb was said to have exploded on a conveyor belt inside the facility, injuring one employee who has been treated for “ringing in the ears,” and released. The FedEx facility is located on Doerr Lane in the Verde Enterprise Business Park, an industrial park where Amazon, Caterpillar, and others operate massive distribution facilities.
Members of the Schertz police, fire, and Emergency Medical Services responded to a call at 12:25 a.m. after a report of an explosion. Shortly after, officers and agents with the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) bomb unit; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); and the FBI arrived.
“It’s very early in the investigation obviously, but we are confident that neither this facility nor any location in the Schertz area was the target,” said Michael Hansen, chief of police in Schertz, a city northeast of San Antonio with a population of 40,000.
Multiple media reports said the package was believed to be both destined for the Austin area and mailed from there. However, San Antonio Police Department officials said Chief William McManus misspoke earlier Tuesday when he said a second suspicious package had been found at the Schertz FedEx facility.
Reports from the Austin American-Statesman stated that the package may have been shipped from a FedEx Office store in Sunset Valley, a suburb southwest of downtown Austin. The Statesman, citing information from U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin), also reported that investigators have determined that a package found at a FedEx facility later Tuesday in Southeast Austin contained a bomb and may have been sent by the same person who mailed the package that exploded in Schertz.
Interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley told members of the Austin City Council during a work session Tuesday morning that investigators believe the incidents are all related, due to the specific content within the devices.
“We can’t say where the package was destined for,” said FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge James Smith at a press conference in Schertz on Tuesday morning. “We are still investigating. We’re trying to understand what happened. We’re trying to surf through the evidence.”
Though earlier reports indicated the package contained nails and shrapnel, Smith would not confirm that, nor say exactly what kind of damage it caused inside the facility or whether the explosion is connected to the recent bombings in Austin that have killed two and injured three others.
He said the building was evacuated and officials are working with FedEx regarding the packages that are currently inside the facility awaiting delivery.
“Right now, necessary precautions have been taken and right now investigators are conducting their investigation,” said Frank Ortega, acting assistant special agent in charge for the ATF.
“We want the public to know that their safety is our priority, so we encourage anyone in the public who has information to call our tip line (512-472-TIPS),” Ortega said. “All leads will be pursued and investigated.”
On Monday, McManus said he was sending two bomb techs and a bomb dog to assist the ongoing investigation in Austin. “They are overwhelmed right now with calls from the public concerned about the explosions,” he said. “We will leave them up there for as long as the FBI and Austin PD need their services, and right now, we’re not sure how long that will be.”
With SAPD continuing in “support mode” on Tuesday, McManus said, “If something were to happen here, of course that would shift.”
He urged people to be cautious, but not to worry. “We cannot let this affect our daily routines. We simply have to be cautious of all those [safety measures] we talked about prior [regarding suspicious packages].”
Recent bomb threats will not alter any of the NCAA Men’s Final Four events set to kick off next week in San Antonio. “That event is going to go on here, and we’re going to make sure that it stays safe. Period,” McManus said.
McManus said he was preparing to contact Steven McCraw, director of the State’s Department of Public Safety, “to see if we can obtain any equipment that may help us with this investigation.” That equipment would include real-time X-ray machines, he said, which could be used during the Final Four.
“Local organizers have been working for years on all aspects of security for the Final Four,” said Mary Ullman Japhet, public relations manager for San Antonio Sports, which is overseeing the event.
“The safety and security of our teams and fans is a top priority,” said Erik Christianson, the NCAA’s managing director of external affairs. “We are aware of the bombings in Austin and near San Antonio and have been in contact with law enforcement.
“We have extensive security plans in place and will continue to work closely with city, state, and federal agencies during the Final Four to ensure all events are safe.”
As previously announced, there will be a clear bag policy in place at all Final Four events, she said, and an expanded security perimeter at the Alamodome on game days, March 31 and April 2.
“We’re taking the lead from law enforcement and using the ‘see something, say something’ message,” Japhet said, adding that the Austin and Schertz explosions will “make more people aware, certainly, but from our work with law enforcement – we already have those [security] plans in place.”
Between 1978 and 1995, three people were killed and 23 others were wounded after a string of mail bombings in other parts of the country. Ted Kaczynski, dubbed “The Unabomber,” is serving eight life sentences for murder in that case.
Officials urged the public to avoid contact with packages that were not expected or appear to have a suspicious return address. If you discover a suspicious object or package, do not touch or move it, and call 9-1-1.