Hours after a serial bomber blew himself up as authorities closed in, investigators discovered that the homegrown Texan who terrorized Austin for 19 days left behind a list of future targets and a 25-minute “confession” on his phone, officials said Wednesday.
After hundreds of investigators swarmed Austin in recent days to stop the bomber, it was a combination of high-tech surveillance and old-fashioned shoe leather investigating the bombings that led officials to Mark Anthony Conditt, an Austin resident who had no clear motive or criminal record.
Conditt didn’t appear to be motivated by terrorism or hate, but the confession investigators found on his cellphone was “the outcry of a very challenged young man” dealing with problems in his personal life, said Austin Police Chief Brian Manley.
The series of bombs linked to Conditt used similar components that made it easy for officials to link the devices: unusual batteries, apparently purchased online from Asia, and nails used as shrapnel, according to U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Trying to find the buyer of the nails, officials “went to every hardware store” in the area to find customers who had made large purchases, and they struck gold with a Home Depot store in the Austin suburb of Round Rock, McCaul said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
“The fatal mistake that led law enforcement to him — because he was pretty good at evading surveillance cameras — was when he walked into Home Depot,” McCaul said. Investigators obtained surveillance video of Conditt walking into the store in a wig and walking back out to a vehicle with a license plate connected to his name.
From there, McCaul said, investigators obtained a cellphone number linked to Conditt, which had been turned off for “a while” — until Wednesday morning.
When Conditt turned on the phone, McCaul said, investigators were able to pinpoint him at a hotel in Round Rock, which led to a police chase that ended with Conditt killing himself with an explosive in his red SUV. An officer also fired a gunshot at the vehicle, said authorities, who didn’t clarify whether that was before or after the explosion.
“If we had not found this man, there would have been more devices and more innocent civilians would have been hurt and been killed,” said FBI Special Agent Christopher Combs.
Officials, who discovered a bomb-making room in Conditt’s home in the Austin suburb of Pflugerville, still haven’t offered any theories for why Conditt embarked on a bombing campaign that left two dead, four injured and an entire city unnerved.