APD Chief Manley On The Aftermath Of The Austin Bombings' 'Extremely Trying And Dangerous Time'

Mar 4, 2019

A fatal package bombing at a North Austin home on March 2, 2018, was thought to be an isolated incident. Instead, it turned out to be the first of five bombs that would go off over the next few weeks. The bomber later killed himself in a separate explosion.

One year later, KUT is revisiting the serial bombing and its impact on the city.

The FBI closed its case in January, saying it had found no evidence linking the bomber to any hate groups or terror groups. The Austin Police Department's investigation is still technically open, but Police Chief Brian Manley says he doesn't expect it to remain open much longer.

"There's a few pieces the detectives are finalizing on," he says. "We're not speaking about what they are, but there's just a few things that they want to finish up on."

Though the case will one day be closed, the serial bombings in March 2018 will forever remain a part of Austin's history.

KUT talked with Manley recently about the impact of what he calls those "very tenuous times," including his decision not to release the bomber's videotaped confession.

Interview Highlights

On his decision not to release the tape of the serial bomber's confession:

There is absolutely nothing on that tape that will provide anybody any sense of closure or any motive for the bomber doing what he did. But instead, I think that this would make communities around the country less safe.

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If I felt like there was a public benefit to releasing this – that it would answer some questions or that it would make communities more resilient if they're facing something like this – I would absolutely release it.

On the anniversary of the serial bombings in Austin, Police Chief Brian Manley spoke to KUT about the investigation and the aftermath.
Credit Juan Figueroa for KUT

But instead, this is his account of really what he did. He talks about himself. We look at it as almost an after-action report that he was doing. He self-identifies mistakes that he made. He talks about those mistakes and he says, "I think that that's how they caught me. I think that's how they got onto me here." And he's not all wrong. So, some of the things that he said on that video are things that we were able to capitalize on and move that investigation as quickly as we did. And I believe putting that out in the public space where it will live on the internet or in media for quite a while – I think that's irresponsible.

On the lack of a definitive motivation for the serial bomber's actions:

It's frustrating. We're never going to know. But there's no answer that he could have given, there's nothing he could have said on that tape, that would make any of this OK.

I question myself on what did I want to hear? What would I have liked to have heard?

I think it's human nature; we want to understand why someone could do such a violent act and take so many innocent lives or injure so many. But in this one, there's nothing that we're ever going to uncover from what we have right now that's going to give us that motive, and we're left with the unknown.

On his final decision to call the serial bomber a "domestic terrorist":

There's not a charge of "domestic terrorism" that you can charge somebody with.

I was very comfortable calling him a domestic terrorist because it was obvious what he had done to our community. He had put a level of fear in our community that under the definition in the Patriot Act I felt like it was very appropriate at that point to call him a domestic terrorist.

On how the serial bombing changed Austin:

I think it highlighted for us as a community, really, the need to know your neighbors. I mean we really needed to come together, and if you didn't already know your neighbors that was a time that we needed you to get to know your neighbors because the only way you'll know what looks out of place and what looks suspicious is if you know what looks right and who is your neighbor.

So, I think as a community, we understood the importance of relationships. I don't know at a community level if it is recognized how well the community came together, again because it was such a tenuous time.

But I can say, looking back now, I think that our community was as together as they could be during what was an extremely trying and dangerous time.