‘Grieving As A Community,’ East Austin Looks For Answers In Deadly Package Explosions

Local police and 300 federal agents say they are dealing with a person or people with very sophisticated bomb-making abilities.

By Jill AmentMarch 16, 2018 8:42 am| ,

Andrea Zelinski is a reporter for the Houston Chronicle based in Austin. She was at a community-wide meeting Thursday night where Austin police addressed the investigation into three package bombings in the city that have left two people dead.

Zelinski says there are now 300 federal agents working on the case. According to Chief Brian Manley, that’s unprecedented cooperation between local and federal authorities.

“Chief Manley said they have gotten lots and lots of tips, but he made a point yesterday of saying, ‘obviously they’re not leading us in the direction that we need to be going.’ Each tip is being logged, is being assigned to any of these hundreds of agents to be tracked down,” she says.

Evidence from the crime scenes has been shipped to a lab for testing to determine the materials used in the bombs. Local police and 300 federal agents say they are dealing with a person or people with very sophisticated bomb-making abilities.

“That really shows that we’re dealing with people or someone who really knows what they’re doing,” Zelinski says.

Investigators are also examining possible links between the victims.

“The biggest dots that connect them is that both the first two victims have relatives who knew each other,” Zelinski says. “They’re in a prominent black fraternity here in Austin and both were very prominent in their communities.”

But she says police don’t know yet whether that’s relevant to the case.

“It’s unclear whether that connects over to the third victim, the 75-year-old Hispanic woman, so we don’t quite know how to put those puzzle pieces together yet,” she says.

Law enforcement has released very little information about the packages so far, which Zelinski says is intentional.

“We don’t know how well-labeled any of these boxes were, what kind of packaging was around them, even the size of the box,” she says. “And Chief Manley said last night he wanted to avoid giving some of those details so people remain vigilant.”

Hundreds of residents attended Thursday night’s community meeting in east Austin, where Zelinski says there were a lot of mixed feelings.

“There definitely seems to be some people who are fearful, others who are angry that there was the initial bombing on March 2 and they felt like the community should have been alerted to beware what kind of packages that you’re getting and you’re opening,” she says. “There’s also some frustration in the black community that police could have taken this case more seriously at the outset, as opposed to it not really getting off the ground until the March 12 bombings.”

Some were focused on making sure that residents are getting support.

“There was a lot of ‘we need to come together,’” she says, “a lot of unity, and grieving as a community.”

Written by Jen Rice.

Andrea Garcia for KUT News.