As Austin Police Look For Links Between Bomb Victims, Residents Offer Own Theories
On Haverford Drive in North Austin, the front door of the home where Anthony House lived has been boarded up with plywood. Save for that, there’s nothing to indicate what happened on this quiet residential street March 2.
That morning, 39-year-old House became the first victim in a series of bombings across the city. He was killed when a package left on his front porch exploded. Ten days later, two other package bombs exploded, killing a second person and severely injuring two women.
Craig Stein, who lives across the street, says it's been a tense time for neighbors.
“Finding out on Monday that it’s continuing is also scary for the entire city,” Stein says, “and what really made me the most upset – besides, obviously, the loss of life – was that it might be racially motivated. That’s what made me feel sick.”
Austin police initially thought the explosion on Haverford was an isolated incident. Interim Police Chief Brian Manley said officials had a theory that the attack may have been retaliation for a recent drug raid police conducted at a nearby house, which looked similar to the one in which House lived. He said police thought the attacker may have delivered the bomb to the wrong house.
"When they said that, it was almost like they had stopped at that point," Stein says. "Like, 'Well, it was just a one-off drug thing.' That's the impression that it sounded like, and that was upsetting for a lot of reasons."
The APD's theory about a drug bust connection changed when two more package bombs exploded Monday. One, in North Austin, killed 17-year-old Draylen Mason and injured his mother. Another seriously injured a 75-year-old woman in Montopolis.
House and Mason were both African-American. The victim of the Montopolis attack is Latina. Speaking earlier this week, Manley said investigators are not ruling out the possibility of a hate crime.
“One of the key things we’re trying to understand is, is there a connection between the victims?” Manley said. “What is the victimology? What is the motive behind these attacks? And that’s one of the investigative avenues that we are tracking.”
Police are looking into reported connections between House and Mason, who were both members of prominent African-American families in Austin. It’s unclear whether they had any connections to the victim of the third attack.
With plenty of unanswered questions, people are beginning to piece together their own explanations. Nelson Linder, president of the Austin chapter of the NAACP, says he’s been involved with the investigation from the start, and he’s certain the victims were targeted.
“The personal angle is going to eventually solve this case, and I feel very confident about that,” he said.
Linder said he knew House and had a personal relationship with Draylen Mason's family. He said he thinks the bomber was targeting the Masons and pointed to a woman with the same last name who lives near the Montopolis victim. He said the bomber may have wrongfully assumed she was a relative and then placed the explosive outside the wrong house.
"We knew it right away that that bomb was a mistake and that there was an Erica Mason who is not related to the family who was targeted by these murderers," Linder said.
Austin police have declined to confirm whether Erica Mason may have been the target.
The FBI has brought in bomb technicians, evidence teams and criminal profilers to help identify suspects. Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will be sending evidence they collect to an ATF laboratory in California. Chief Manley says it’s likely to be a long investigation.