Early on March 21, the call went out from a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter circling over Round Rock: Pilots had the Austin serial bomber in sight.
“I’ve got him eastbound … coming up to (Interstate) 35 frontage,” the trooper announced to an army of federal, state and local police on the ground.
A DPS video released Friday showed that as suspect Mark Conditt zoomed south, his destination unknown, an Austin police SWAT team van slammed into his red SUV. Then, in harrowing actions that officials say placed the team in grave danger, officers bolted from their van and ran toward the passenger side of Conditt’s disabled car.
“Van’s made contact with him!” the trooper said.
As officers pounded on Conditt’s window, knowing he was possibly armed with a bomb, police say, a fireball erupted from his car that was so strong it knocked the officers back several feet.
“Got an explosion! Got an explosion inside the vehicle!” the trooper called out from the chopper.
Conditt died instantly, ending nearly three weeks of fear that had gripped Austin. The officers who ran toward him have been hailed by city leaders as heroes.
The black-and-white video obtained Friday by the American-Statesman is the first major piece of evidence in the bombing case to be released. DPS officials included about 90 seconds from a larger trove of not-yet-released footage in a video touting the agency’s air operations. They showed it at a Texas Public Safety Commission meeting that was open to the public.
“You can see why local law enforcement needs air support,” DPS Director Steve McCraw told the commissioners.
Authorities say Conditt, a 23-year-old from Pflugerville, was responsible for a series of attacks that killed two people. Five others were injured and a city was terrorized during a 19-day span.
The blasts killed 39-year-old Anthony House and 17-year-old Draylen Mason, who died after opening package bombs placed outside their homes in East Austin. Among the injured was 75-year-old Esperanza Herrera, who was severely hurt by a bomb left outside her mother’s house in Southeast Austin the same day Mason was killed. Police say the explosives were randomly placed and Conditt did not appear to have specific targets.
Two other men also were injured by a blast triggered by a trip-wire explosive device in their Southwest Austin neighborhood.
At the time of his death, Conditt had been on investigators’ radar as a possible suspect. They had learned about suspicious purchases he had made, including nails and electronics that could be used to make bombs, but had not formally deemed him a suspect until they reviewed surveillance video from a FedEx store.
Investigators think Conditt shipped two bombs, one of which exploded at a FedEx facility near San Antonio, from the Brodie Lane FedEx store. The other was found at a distribution facility near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport before it went off.
Authorities then used cellphone tracking and spy planes to track Conditt, but also relied on traditional police work to find his red Nissan Pathfinder in Round Rock.
Conditt recorded a 28-minute statement on his phone in the hours before his death and indicated that he knew investigators were closing in, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley has said. Conditt also described the seven explosive devices he made, talked about personal struggles and said he had no remorse for his actions, according to police and sources familiar with the recording.
“I wish I were sorry but I am not,” Conditt said in the video, according to the sources.
Conditt said he planned to go to a crowded McDonald’s and blow himself up if he felt he were about to be arrested.
It is unclear whether officials will release Conditt’s confession. Because the investigation did not result in a successful prosecution of Conditt, officials have discretion about what information will be released.
Manley has said that he wants to conclude the investigation before making a final decision about whether to release the recording.
Police have not offered a specific timetable but said the investigation could be resolved in the next several weeks.