Teen gunman who killed 10 at Texas school planned suicide: governor

Police keep a roadblock on a main road to Santa Fe High School where police found explosives after an early morning shool shooting that left several people dead in Santa Fe, Texas, U.S., May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Trish Badger

By Liz Hampton and Erwin Seba

SANTA FE, Texas (Reuters) – Texas officials charged a 17-year-old student with murder in the shooting of 10 people, including fellow pupils, at his high school on Friday in an attack similar to the massacre at a Florida high school earlier this year.

Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the suspect in the Santa Fe High School shooting is shown in this booking photo at the Galveston County Jail, released by the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office in Texas, U.S., May 18, 2018. Courtesy Galveston County Sheriff’s Office/Handout via REUTERS

Students said a gunman, identified by law enforcement as Dimitrios Pagourtzis, opened fire in a classroom at Santa Fe High School shortly before 8 a.m. CT (1300 GMT) on Friday, and that they fled in panic after seeing classmates wounded and a fire alarm triggered a full evacuation. Ten people were hurt in the attack, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said.

It was the latest in a long series of deadly shootings at U.S. schools. Seventeen teens and educators were shot dead at a Parkland, Florida, high school in February, a massacre that stirred the nation’s long-running debate over gun ownership.

The Galveston County Sheriff’s Office identified Pagourtzis and said he had been charged with capital murder in a post on its Facebook page. More charges could follow.

Speaking to reporters before the teen was identified, Abbott told reporters that the suspect had used a shotgun and a .38 revolver taken from his father in the fourth-deadliest mass shooting at a U.S. public school.

“Not only did he want to commit the shooting, but he wanted to commit suicide after the shooting,” Abbott said, citing a police review of the suspect’s journals. “He didn’t have the courage to commit suicide.”

Two other people are in custody, Abbott said.

Investigators are talking to the suspect, Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said.

Abbott said that investigators had seen a T-shirt on the suspect’s Facebook page that read “Born to Kill.”

Explosive devices had also been found at the school, located about 30 miles (48 km) southeast of Houston, and off campus, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez tweeted.

Police were searching two homes and a vehicle linked to the suspect, where they have found multiple homemade explosive devices, Abbott said.

First responders following a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, May 18, 2018. Courtesy Harris County Sheriff's Office/via REUTERS

First responders following a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, May 18, 2018. Courtesy Harris County Sheriff’s Office/via REUTERS

‘THE GUY BEHIND ME WAS DEAD’

Courtney Marshall, a 15-year-old freshman at the school, said the gunman came into her art class shooting.

“I wanted to take care of my friends, but I knew I had to get out of there,” Marshall said, saying that she saw at least one person hit. “I knew the guy behind me was dead.”

Orlando Gonzalez said that his 16-year-old son Keaton, fled the attack, but one of his friends was shot and wounded.

“I was really worried, I didn’t know what was going on … I almost couldn’t drive,” Gonzalez said. “I just imagine what he’s going through … He’s still scared.”

The school has some 1,462 students, according to federal education data.

U.S. President Donald Trump called the latest school massacre “absolutely horrific.”

“My administration is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others,” Trump said at the White House.

Days after the Parkland shooting, Trump said that elected officials should be ready to “fight” the powerful National Rifle Association lobby group. Early this month he embraced that group, telling its annual meeting in Dallas “your Second Amendment rights are under siege.”

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to bear arms.

No major federal gun controls have been imposed since Parkland, though the administration is pursuing a proposed regulatory ban on “bump stocks,” which enable a semi-automatic rifle to fire a steady stream of bullets. The devices were used in an October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 59 people but have not played a role in other major U.S. mass shootings.

(Additional reporting by Ernest Scheyder and Liz Hampton in Houston, Gina Cherelus and Peter Szekely in New York and Mark Hosenball and Ian Simpson in Washington; Writing by Daniel Wallis and Scott Malone; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Susan Thomas)

 

At least eight dead, explosives found in Texas school shooting: sheriff

First responders following a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, May 18, 2018. Courtesy Harris County Sheriff's Office/via REUTERS

By Erwin Seba

SANTA FE, Texas (Reuters) – At least eight people died in a shooting at a Santa Fe, Texas, high school on Friday and police searching the building said they had taken into custody a student suspected of the attack and found explosives in the school building.

The sound of gunshots tore through the air at Santa Fe High School shortly before 8 a.m. CT (1300 GMT) on Friday, witnesses told local media, and live TV images showed lines of students evacuating the building while heavily armed police responded to the scene.

The incident was the latest in a long series of deadly shootings at U.S. schools. Seventeen teens and educators were shot dead at a Parkland, Florida, high school in February, a massacre that stirred the nation’s long-running debate over gun ownership.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said that eight to 10 people, both students and adults, died in the incident at the school about 30 miles (48 km) southeast of Houston.

“There is one person, a suspect, in custody and a second possible person of interest that is detained and being questioned,” Gonzalez said at a news conference.

Explosive devices had also been found at the school and off campus, Gonzalez tweeted. “Law enforcement is in the process of rendering them safe. School has been evacuated.”

The suspect is a 17-year-old male, a law enforcement source who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the investigation, told Reuters.

At least nine people were taken to area hospitals for treatment, hospital officials said. The conditions of those people was not immediately clear. Gonzalez said a police officer was also being treated for injuries.

Sophomore Leila Butler told the local ABC affiliate that fire alarms went off at about 7:45 a.m. local time (1245 GMT) and students left their classrooms. She said some students believe they heard shots fired, and that she was sheltering with other students and teachers near campus.

‘WE ALL TOOK OFF’

A male student, who did not identify himself, described fleeing the scene in an interview with CBS affiliate KHOU.

“Three shots that I heard, so we all took off in the back and I tried to get into the trees, I didn’t want to be in sight. I heard four more shots, and then we jumped the fence to somebody’s house,” the student said.

Another sophomore, Dakota Shrader, told Fox 26 TV her 17-year-old girlfriend told her by phone that she was wounded but was recovering in a hospital. “My friend got injured,” said an emotional Shrader. “Her leg, she got shot in the leg.”

Dr. David Marshall, chief nursing officer at the University of Texas Medical Branch, said that the hospital was treating at least three patients – two adults and one person under 18. He said it was not immediately clear if that child was a student.

U.S. President Donald Trump called the latest school massacre heartbreaking.

“My administration is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others,” Trump said at the White House.

Days after the Parkland shooting, Trump said that elected officials should be ready to “fight” the powerful National Rifle Association lobby group. Early this month he embraced that group, telling its annual meeting in Dallas “your Second Amendment rights are under siege.”

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to bear arms.

No major federal gun controls have been imposed since Parkland, though the administration is pursuing a proposed regulatory ban on “bump stocks,” which enable a semi-automatic rifle to fire a steady stream of bullets. The devices were used in an October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 59 people but have not played a role in other major U.S. mass shootings.

(Additional reporting by Ernest Scheyder and Liz Hampton in Houston, Gina Cherelus and Peter Szekely in New York and Mark Hosenball and Ian Simpson in Washington; Writing by Daniel Wallis and Scott Malone; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Susan Thomas)

Deadly South Carolina prison riot exposes staffing shortage

FILE PHOTO: The Lee Correctional Institution is seen in Bishopville, Lee County, South Carolina, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Randall Hill/File Photo

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A gang-related melee at a South Carolina prison that ended with seven dead and 17 injured, the deadliest U.S. prison riot in a quarter century, exposed the vulnerability of an understaffed system.

Forty-four guards were on duty overseeing 1,583 inmates at Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, South Carolina, when the violence broke out, and it took eight hours to put an end to the riot early on Monday.

Across the country, cuts to state budgets have left state prison systems understaffed, a reality that prison officials and law enforcement experts say increases the risk of being unable to contain any outbreaks of violence quickly.

“We’re grossly understaffed at many facilities across the United States,” said Brian Dawe, executive director of the American Correctional Officer Intelligence Network, a clearinghouse for best practices and information for corrections officers and others.

The South Carolina riot was sparked by a fight among prison gangs over turf and contraband around the time of a shift change in three cell blocks. That meant more staffers than usual were present, but the melee still went unchecked for hours, Bryan Stirling, South Carolina’s prison director, told a news conference.

About a quarter of South Carolina’s state prison guard jobs are unfilled, Stirling told The State newspaper in January. South Carolina is far from alone in having double-digit vacancy rates.

There are no national figures on prison staffing, but state records show that 16 percent of guard jobs are unfilled in Delaware and 31 percent in Oklahoma, as well as 15 percent of all corrections jobs, including guards, in Arkansas.

Similarly, 16 percent of guard positions in North Carolina prisons and 14 percent in Texas were unfilled late last year, according to local media. Missouri had a shortage of more than 400 guards and officers were being bused from one prison to another on overtime to cover shifts.

The federal system had a ratio of 10.3 inmates per correctional officer in 2005 and a ratio of 4.9 inmates per prison staff, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. In some states facing staff shortages, there might be one officer for every 40 or 50 inmates, union officials said.

The ratio at the Lee Correctional Institution Sunday evening was 35.9 inmates per guard.

Dawe put the ideal ratio at about five to one, but Michele Deitch, a lecturer on corrections at the University of Texas, said it depended on layout of the prison and the type of facility, such as whether it was minimum or maximum security.

“It’s not like you can take one number and apply it to every facility,” Deitch said. “It’s not really a great indicator.”

Compounding the chaos, when the fighting erupted in South Carolina on Sunday, all the guards pulled out to await police backup. It took four hours for officers to move into the first dorm, and their response was slowed by having to deal with wounded inmates, Stirling said.

Shaundra Scott, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in South Carolina, said the mayhem underscored that state prisons lack personnel to keep inmates safe, as well as protocols to quell unrest.

“They don’t have the staff to keep things running in the prison,” she said. Scott added that mixing juvenile with adult inmates, the use of solitary confinement and a lack of mental health treatment also fed violence.

South Carolina Department of Corrections spokesman Jeffrey Taillon declined to comment on Wednesday. He referred a reporter to Stirling’s Monday statement that the state was beginning to retain staff through extra pay, bonuses and overtime after years of losing about 150 officers annually.

The number of Americans in state prisons fell to 1.38 million in 2016, down about 4 percent from a decade earlier, according to U.S. Department of Justice data. But experts say the drop was not enough to close the guard shortage substantially.

Budgets have been cut for several years, with a survey of 45 states by the Vera Institute of Justice in New York showing a 0.5 percent decline in prison expenditures from 2010 through 2015. South Carolina’s spending dropped 2.4 percent over that period, with the sharpest declines in Nevada, down 14.7 percent, and Michigan, down 12.4 percent.

Oklahoma Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh, citing the South Carolina violence, said he recognized the risks potentially facing prisons in his cash-strapped state, which announced a hiring freeze on corrections officers in February.

“This could have easily been us,” Allbaugh, who has been critical of a funding shortage in a state with one of the highest rates of incarceration, said on Twitter.

Plagued by high turnover, some prisons are turning to overtime to make up for staffing gaps as they struggle to fill low-paying jobs seen as dangerous and undesirable in a growing U.S. economy with a tight labor market.

Jackie Switzer, a former prison guard and executive director of the Oklahoma Corrections Professionals lobbying group, said officers often were asked to work overtime or double shifts.

“They are not as responsive as they would be if they were fresh. That in turn creates a dangerous situation,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Barbara Bush, wife of ex-President George H.W. Bush, in ‘failing health’

FILE PHOTO: Former first lady Barbara Bush listens to remarks during the christening ceremony of the USS George H.W. Bush at Northrop-Grumman's shipyard in Newport News, Virginia, U.S., October 7, 2006. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Barbara Bush, the wife of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, is in “failing health” and has decided to no longer seek medical treatment, the office of the ex-president said in a statement from Houston on Sunday.

The former first lady, who is also the mother of former President George W. Bush, “will instead focus on comfort care,” the statement said. She is 92 years old.

The brief statement did not indicate the nature of Bush’s illness but said that she had had a series of recent hospitalizations.

CNN reported that Bush was suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and congestive heart failure. A Bush family spokesman said she was being cared for at her home. He did not provide information on the nature of her illness.

FILE PHOTO - Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush participates in the coin toss ahead of the start of Super Bowl LI between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons as former first lady Barbara Bush looks on in Houston , Texas, U.S., February 5, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees La

FILE PHOTO – Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush participates in the coin toss ahead of the start of Super Bowl LI between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons as former first lady Barbara Bush looks on in Houston , Texas, U.S., February 5, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

“She is surrounded by a family she adores and appreciates the many kind messages and especially the prayers she is receiving,” the statement added.

As first lady from 1989 until the start of 1993, Bush was a popular national figure known for her sometimes blunt talk and self-deprecating wit.

Her husband, the 41st U.S. president, is 93 years old. Her son, the 43 U.S. president, is 71.

Another son, Jeb, is a former governor of Florida who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2015 and early 2016, quitting after a series of lackluster performances highlighted by tough skirmishes with then-candidate Donald Trump.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said: “The president’s and first lady’s prayers are with all of the Bush family during this time.”

With hair that had turned white prematurely, Bush was known by family members as the “Silver Fox.”

Her work as first lady focused on promoting literacy and reading. At the time, she said she was more interested in running a household than in helping her husband run the country.

“Barbara Bush has a character that is as big, inspiring and iconic as Texas,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement on Sunday. The Bushes moved to Texas in the mid-1940s.

Bush holds a unique place in U.S. history.

She is the only woman to see her husband and son sworn in as U.S. president. Abigail Adams, first lady from 1797 to 1801, was a major influence on husband John Adams, the nation’s second president, but died before her son, John Quincy Adams, was elected president in 1824.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Will Dunham; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Storms unleash tornadoes in U.S. east, record snow in Midwest

Dark clouds hover above buildings amidst tornadoes in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the U.S., April 10, 2018 in this still image obtained from a social media video. Emmet Finneran/via REUTERS

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – Deadly slow-moving storms generated record or near-record snowfall and low temperatures in the U.S. Midwest and tornadoes further east on Sunday, leaving airline travelers stranded and thousands without power.

In Michigan, where snowfall was expected to reach 18 inches in some areas, about 310,000 homes and businesses were without power because of an ice storm, most of them in the southeast of the state.

Large areas of Detroit were without power and customers were not expected to have it back on Sunday night, utility DTE Energy said. It was working to have 90 percent of outages restored by Tuesday, DTE spokeswoman Carly Getz said in a statement.

Cars are seen on a road during a tornado in Mountainburg, Arkansas, U.S., April 13, 2018 in this picture grab obtained from social media video. JOSHUA COLEMAN/via REUTERS

Cars are seen on a road during a tornado in Mountainburg, Arkansas, U.S., April 13, 2018 in this picture grab obtained from social media video. JOSHUA COLEMAN/via REUTERS

The weight of ice on power lines, coupled with high winds, caused more than 1,000 power lines to fall in Detroit and Wayne County, DTE said.

The worst of the snow was focused on the upper Great Lakes, with Green Bay, Wisconsin, seeing its second largest snowstorm ever after 23.2 inches fell as of Sunday afternoon, the National Weather Service said.

For the twin cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, the April monthly record for snowfall of 21.8 inches (55 cm) was surpassed on Saturday, the National Weather Service said.

Two tornadoes tore up trees and ripped apart homes in Greensboro and Reidsville, North Carolina, killing a motorist who was hit by a tree, according to Greensboro’s city manager, local media reported.

The storms stretched from the Gulf Coast to the Midwest and were moving into the Northeast and New England.

Record low temperatures for the date were expected in Oklahoma City on Monday at 30 degrees F (-1 C), and in Kansas City, Missouri, at 25 F (-4 C), Hurley said.

On Friday, the weather system produced 17 reports of tornadoes in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas, with four people injured and 160 buildings damaged in a possible tornado in northwest Arkansas, local media reported.

The weather was blamed for two traffic deaths in western Nebraska and Wisconsin, according to National Public Radio.

The storms also killed a one-year-old girl when a tree fell on a recreational vehicle where she was sleeping, the sheriff’s office in Bossier Parish, Louisiana, said.

By Sunday night, 1,804 flights had been canceled into or out of U.S. airports, the website flightaware.com reported, including 148 flights in or out of the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Andrew Hay in Taos, N.M.; Editing by Adrian Croft and Peter Cooney)

Some Oklahoma teachers find the grass really is greener in Texas

Former Oklahoma teacher Chelsea Price, 34, helps a 2nd grade student with an assignment on an iPad in her classroom in Grapevine, Texas, U.S., April 4, 2018. Courtesy Chelsea Price/Handout via REUTERS

By Lisa Maria Garza

GRAPEVINE, Texas (Reuters) – After years of poor pay, supply shortages and overcrowded classes, former Oklahoma teacher Chelsea Price decided the best way to pursue the profession she loves was to leave her home state and head south to Texas.

The harsh economic realities of teaching in Oklahoma, where school salaries are some of the lowest in the United States, have created an exodus to neighboring states where wages are higher.

As a consequence, Oklahoma is grappling with a teacher shortage that has forced school districts to cut curricula and deploy nearly 2,000 emergency-certified instructors as a stop-gap measure.

“It just got to the point where it was really defeating,” said Price, 34, who last year moved to the Dallas suburb of Grapevine with her husband and 10-year-old daughter to start a job as a second-grade teacher.

Crossing the Red River that separates Oklahoma and Texas meant a salary increase of about 40 percent for Price, who has a master’s degree. She saw few prospects of improving the lot of her family by staying put.

Price earned around $30,000 a year when she began teaching in Oklahoma. When she left 11 years later, she was earning just under $40,000. At her new position, Price earns about $55,000.

The benefits transcend salary. There is a cap on class sizes and every student has an iPad, which Price said makes her job easier.

In Oklahoma, where educators statewide walked off the job this week to protest years of low pay and budget cuts to the school system, teacher complaints range from decaying infrastructure, students’ having to share worn-out textbooks and teachers’ having to dip into their own pockets to buy supplies for underfunded classes.

In contrast, the northern Dallas suburbs, an hour or less south of the Oklahoma border, enjoy increased spending on schools as population growth in recent years, which has outpaced nearly every area of the United States, has driven up local tax revenues.

Grapevine, with about 50,000 people, has a refurbished main street, a major resort hotel and easy commutes to major employers in Dallas and Fort Worth. Like many of the northern Dallas-area suburbs, new parks, schools and businesses are springing up in a region seen as a place of relatively low crime, good employment prospects and affordable housing.

Oklahoma City and Tulsa also have relatively low unemployment rates and spectacularly refurbished urban areas, but median household income and wages are far lower than in the northern Dallas suburbs.

Price and other teachers from Oklahoma have followed the money.

“If I can find a better situation for all of us, then why wouldn’t I?” she said.

Since 2010, Texas has seen about 3,500 teachers from Oklahoma apply for teaching certificates, the most of any state, according to the Texas Education Agency.

“LOSING OUR BEST, BRIGHTEST”

About 11 percent of Oklahoma teachers overall leave the state or profession every year, according to data from the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, an umbrella group.

More than 80 percent leave over low pay, according to the data. In constant dollar terms, the pay for Oklahoma teachers has dropped by about 15 percent over the last 25 years, federal data showed.

“Oklahoma’s teacher shortage has been devastating for children. When schools can’t find qualified teachers, they either must increase class sizes or hire under-qualified, under-prepared teachers,” said Shawn Hime, executive director of the association.

Every state bordering Oklahoma offers higher wages for teachers, with mean wages in the neighboring states about $8,600 to $16,000 higher, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Striking teachers in Oklahoma are seeking a $10,000 raise.

Those leaving are often teachers who have several years of experience and generally hold a master’s degree or higher, according to a survey from Theresa Cullen, an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Oklahoma. The average salary increase for those who fled to other states was about $19,000, the survey showed.

“We are losing our best, brightest and most prepared,” Cullen said.

Of neighboring states, Texas offers the highest mean wages. Ginny Duncan, 24, decided to relocate there two years after starting her teaching career at an elementary school in Tulsa.

“I’m moving to Texas this summer because I can’t afford to live here,” she said in a telephone interview.

Duncan, who holds degrees in both special education and regular education, earns about $32,000 a year as a teacher and needs to work three summer jobs to make ends meet. If she can land a similar teaching job in the Dallas area, she could earn about $20,000 a year more.

“I love teaching so much,” Duncan said. “I wanted to be a teacher my entire life. I have a special passion for special needs kids.” But her Oklahoma salary “makes it so hard to actually do it.”

(Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas, and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Frank McGurty and Leslie Adler)

Investigators seek clues whether Austin bomber worked alone

A law enforcement member is seen down the street from the home where Austin serial bomber Mark Anthony Conditt lived in Pflugerville, Texas, U.S., March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – Federal investigators were on Friday seeking clues about what motivated the 23-year-old man they say was responsible for the deadly Texas bombing spree and whether he had help building or planting his bombs.

Mark Conditt, an unemployed man from the Austin suburb of Pflugerville, was behind bombings that killed two people and wounded five others over three weeks before he killed himself as police officers moved in on him on Wednesday, police in the Texas capital said.

Police said Conditt confessed to the bombings in a 25-minute video made on his cellphone hours before he blew himself up. The video showed a troubled young man, police said, but did not outline a clear motive for the attacks that began March 2.

As law enforcement officials continue to search for Conditt’s motive, they remain anxious to learn whether anyone assisted him build or plant his bombs.

“Even though the bomber’s dead, our focus is to ensure that he wasn’t working with anyone else,” said Michelle Lee, a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s San Antonio office.

Investigators sought further clues on Thursday from the Pflugerville home Conditt shared with his roommates. Bomb-making material was found in a room there and investigators questioned and released two of Conditt’s roommates, police said.

Conditt’s bombs primarily targeted Austin. Three were left as parcels outside victims’ homes, one by a sidewalk with a trip-wire mechanism attached and two shipped as FedEx parcels, which helped investigators unmask the bomber’s identity.

The second and third bombs went off while Austin was hosting its annual South by Southwest music, movies and tech festival, which draws about half a million people.

Conditt and his three siblings were home-schooled through high school, his mother wrote on Facebook. He attended classes at Austin Community College between 2010 and 2012, but did not graduate.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Alison Williams)

Texas serial bomber made video confession before blowing himself up: police

Law enforcement personnel investigate the scene where the Texas bombing suspect blew himself up on the side of a highway north of Austin in Round Rock, Texas, U.S., March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Loren E

By Jon Herskovitz

PFLUGERVILLE, Texas (Reuters) – The serial bomber whose deadly attacks terrorized Austin, Texas, for weeks left a 25-minute video “confession” on a cell phone found after he blew himself up on Wednesday as officers closed in to make an arrest, police said.

Texas blast suspect Mark Anthony Conditt. Austin Community College/via REUTERS

Texas blast suspect Mark Anthony Conditt. Austin Community College/via REUTERS

Mark Conditt, 23, an unemployed man from the suburb of Pflugerville, detailed how he made all seven bombs that have been accounted for – five that exploded, one that was recovered before it went off and a seventh that he detonated as officers rushed his vehicle early on Wednesday.

But the video failed to reveal a coherent motive for the attacks spread over the past three weeks, police said.

“He does not at all mention anything about terrorism, nor does he mention anything about hate, but instead it is the outcry of a very challenged young man, talking about challenges in his personal life,” Austin Police Chief Brian Manley told reporters.

“I would classify this as a confession,” Manley said.

Conditt, who had never before been in trouble with the law, killed two people and wounded five with a campaign of violence that began on March 2, authorities said.

Based on their search of the suspect’s home and his video statement, authorities said they felt confident that there were no other bombs and that the public was safe from further harm.

FBI special agent Christopher Combs said investigators believe the suspect would have continued his attacks had he not been apprehended.

Police recovered a “target list” of addresses for future bombings, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing U.S. Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Even so, the video gave no explanation for the individuals and addresses singled out as recipients of the bombs that were planted or shipped, Manley said.

Police previously said they had considered the possibility that the attacks were racially motivated, noting that the first several victims, including the two who died, were either African-American or Hispanic.

Conditt likely recorded the video between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Tuesday. According to Manley, Conditt said he believed police “were getting very close to him,” and he was right. Authorities filed a criminal complaint and issued an arrest warrant around that time.

A surveillance image shows the serial bombing suspect inside a FedEx office store in Austin, Texas, U.S., which was given to law enforcement and obtained by TV station, WOAI/KABB, March 21, 2018. Courtesy of WOAI/KABB/Handout via Reuters

A surveillance image shows the serial bombing suspect inside a FedEx office store in Austin, Texas, U.S., which was given to law enforcement and obtained by TV station, WOAI/KABB, March 21, 2018. Courtesy of WOAI/KABB/Handout via Reuters

By Wednesday morning, police had tracked Conditt to a hotel and were waiting for the arrival of tactical units and equipment before they planned to make an arrest, Manley said. But then Conditt drove away.

Police followed and decided to stop him before he got on the highway. Just as officers approached the vehicle, the explosion went off, Manley said. There was also some police shooting.

“This can never be called a happy ending, but it’s a damn good one for the people of this community, the people of the state of Texas,” Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore told reporters.

Residents in Austin, a city of 1 million people and a liberal enclave of university students and tech companies, voiced relief that the hunt for the serial bomber was over.

“I am going to be leery and extra careful tomorrow at work, but I feel relieved now,” said Jesus Borjon, 44, an employee of parcel delivery firm UPS, who lives in Pflugerville.

Austin was hosting thousands of out-of-town visitors for its annual South by Southwest festival of music, film and technology when the first bombings occurred.

Law enforcement personnel investigate the surroundings of a house linked to the bomber in Pflugerville, Texas, U.S., March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

TRAIL OF CLUES

The trail of clues leading hundreds of investigators to the serial bomber ranged from store receipts and fragments of booby-trapped packages to surveillance video of the suspect in a hat and wig.

Experts scoured the suspect’s home for further evidence on Wednesday, removing explosive materials and bomb components.

“I wouldn’t call it a bomb-making factory, but there’s definitely components consistent with what we’ve seen in all these other devices,” Fred Milanowski, special agent in charge of Houston office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told reporters.

Investigators evacuated a four-block radius around Conditt’s house while they searched the home, which Conditt shared with two roommates who had been detained for questioning. Conditt moved in a year ago after leaving his parents’ home about a mile (1.6 km) away, public records showed.

One law enforcement official involved in the investigation but speaking on condition of anonymity told Reuters that some of the materials found in remnants of the bombs were traced back to where they had been sold.

The source also said investigators, once they had identified Conditt as a potential suspect, obtained a warrant to monitor his Google search history.

Surveillance video showed the suspect in a hat and a blond wig, as he prepared to ship one of two booby-trapped packages he was known to have sent through FedEx Corp’s delivery service, according to the source.

He used the alias “Kelly Killmore” to ship those packages, ABC News reported, citing unnamed law enforcement sources.

Conditt, who was home-schooled, described himself as a conservative but said he was not politically inclined, according to blog posts he wrote as part of a U.S. politics class at Austin Community College. He attended from 2010 to 2012 and had no record of any disciplinary actions, the school said.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Mark Hosenball in Washington, Jonathan Allen and Gina Cherelus in New York and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Peter Cooney & Simon Cameron-Moore)

Fifth device explodes in Texas, seen linked to others

A FedEx truck is seen outside FedEx facility following the blast, in Schertz, Texas, U.S., March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Flores

By Jon Herskovitz and Jim Forsyth

AUSTIN/SCHERTZ, Texas (Reuters) – A package bomb blew up at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio on Tuesday, the fifth in a series of attacks that have rocked Texas this month and sent investigators on a frantic search for what they suspect is a serial bomber.

The package filled with nails and metal shrapnel was mailed from Austin to another address in Austin and passed through a sorting center in Schertz, about 65 miles (105 km) away, when it exploded on a conveyer belt, knocking a female employee off her feet, officials said.

It was the fifth explosion in Texas in the past 18 days and the first involving a commercial parcel service.

“We do believe that these incidents are all related. That is because of the specific contents of these devices,” interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley told members of the Austin City Council, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

A second package sent by the same person was discovered and turned over to law enforcement, FedEx Corp said in a statement. Meanwhile police had surrounded yet another FedEx location in the Austin area after discovering a suspicious package there.

The series of bombings have unsettled Austin, the state capital of some 1 million people, and drawn hundreds of federal law enforcement investigators to join local police. Schertz lies on the highway between Austin and San Antonio.

Speaking through the media, officials have appealed to the bomber to reveal the motives for the attacks. They have also asked the public for any tips, offering a $115,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the culprit.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a tweet: “We are committed to bringing perpetrators of these heinous acts to justice. There is no apparent nexus to terrorism at this time.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on whether it was ruling out both international and domestic terrorism.

“This is obviously a very, very sick individual, or maybe individuals,” President Donald Trump told reporters. “Theseare sick people, and we will get to the bottom of it.”

Investigators were trying to come up with a theory or intelligence regarding the motive for the bombings or identity of the bomber or bombers, a U.S. security official and a law enforcement official told Reuters.

Members of the media move cameras around before the start of a news conference outside the scene of a blast at a FedEx facility in Schertz, Texas, U.S., March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Flore

Members of the media move cameras around before the start of a news conference outside the scene of a blast at a FedEx facility in Schertz, Texas, U.S., March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Flores

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was investigating the FedEx package explosion as if there were a connection to the Austin bombings, the law enforcement official said. Both sources declined to be identified.

The individual or people behind the bombings are likely to be highly skilled and methodical, said Fred Burton, chief security officer for Stratfor, a private intelligence and security consulting firm based in Austin.

“This is a race against time to find him before he bombs again,” Burton said.

The four previous explosions killed two people and injured four others.

The first three devices were parcel bombs dropped off in front of homes on in three eastern Austin neighborhoods. The fourth went off on Sunday night on the west side of the city and was described by police as a more sophisticated device detonated through a trip wire.

The four devices were similar in construction, suggesting they were the work of the same bomb maker, officials said.

Federal authorities at the scene of Tuesday’s blast offered few details, telling reporters their probe was in the early stages and that the building would be secured before investigators could gather evidence.

The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) were among those working with local officials in Austin, Schertz and San Antonio.

“We have agents from across the country. We have our national response team here. We have explosive detection canines here. We have intel research specialists,” Frank Ortega, acting assistant special agent in charge of the San Antonio ATF office, told reporters. “We’ve been working around the clock.”

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Mark Hosenball and Lisa Lambert in Washington; Writing Daniel Trotta; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Tom Brown)

Fifth package bomb strikes Texas, at FedEx facility near San Antonio

Schertz Police block off Doerr Lane near the scene of a blast at a FedEx facility in Schertz, Texas, U.S., March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Flore

By Jon Herskovitz and Jim Forsyth

AUSTIN/SCHERTZ, Texas (Reuters) – A package bomb blew up at a FedEx Corp distribution center near San Antonio on Tuesday, officials said, and the FBI was investigating whether it was linked to a series of four homemade bombs that hit the Texas capital of Austin this month.

Officials did not say if the latest incident was the work of what Austin police believe could be a serial bomber responsible for the four earlier devices that killed two people and injured four others.

The blast at the FedEx facility in Schertz, northeast of San Antonio, was the fifth in the state in the last 18 days. If it is linked to the others, it would be the first outside the Austin area and the first that involves a commercial parcel service.

“We are investigating it as being possibly related to our open investigation,” FBI spokeswoman Michelle Lee told the Austin American-Statesman newspaper. “We can’t know for sure until we have an opportunity to look at the evidence itself.”

The package, filled with nails and metal shrapnel, exploded shortly after midnight local time at the facility, about 65 miles south of Austin, the San Antonio Fire Department said on Twitter.

The company described it as a FedEx Ground sorting facility. About 75 people were working at the facility at the time, fire officials said.

The individual or people behind the bombings are likely to be highly skilled and methodical, said Fred Burton, chief security officer for Stratfor, a private intelligence and security consulting firm based in Austin.

“This is a race against time to find him before he bombs again,” Burton said.

More than 500 federal agents were involved in the investigation.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler on Tuesday sought to reassure citizens. “While the concern is real and the anxiety is real … it can’t immobilize us. It has to make us more determined. It has to make us more vigilant,” he told a local television station.

The White House is monitoring the situation, spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told Fox News on Tuesday.

Further stoking fears, Austin police investigated a possible hazardous materials incident at a FedEx facility in Austin on Tuesday morning. There was no indication it was related to the bombings.

The first three devices were parcel bombs dropped off in front of homes on in three eastern Austin neighborhoods. The fourth went off on Sunday night on the west side of the city and was described by police as a more sophisticated device detonated through a trip wire mechanism.

The four devices were similar in construction, suggesting they were the work of the same bomb maker, officials said.

The first two bombs killed Anthony Stephan House, a 39-year-old black man on March 2 and Draylen Mason, a 17-year-old African-American teenager on March 12. The third, also on March 12, severely injured a 75-year-old Hispanic woman. Police said they are investigating whether the bombings were hate crimes.

Sunday’s trip wire bomb, which injured two white men, went off shortly after police made a rare public call to the suspect to explain his motives.

Austin, with a population of nearly 1 million people, is home to the University of Texas and a plethora of technology companies and has been one of the fastest growing major U.S. cities.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Lisa Lambert in Washington; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Jeffrey Benkoe)