Herman: Filling in the blanks on the Austin bombings

Confronted and confounded by the unknown, our minds rush to fill in the blanks. And in the sad mystery that shrouds the bombings that have frightened our city, the unknown far outweighs the known.

To date, we know what our professional investigators want us to know as they go about the business of protection, prevention and prosecution. That’s as it should be. In these troubling days — as in every day — we depend on them.

As they search for facts, the rest of us — because we’re humans — arrive at conclusions and surmises based on what we know, or think we know, about this unfortunate chapter in Austin’s history and what we know about life on Earth in 2018.

EXPLOSIONS IN AUSTIN: Click here for complete coverage of the bombings

The five bombings and two deaths to date provide a Rorschach test that tells us something about ourselves as we search for answers about what is going on here. See if you see yourself in any of these three amateur, semi-informed conclusions about motive.

• Until Sunday night’s explosion in Southwest Austin, the victims had been people of color. There are people who hate people of color and wish them harm. Even worse, there are people who hate people of color and are willing and eager to do them harm. Ergo, what we are seeing play out slowly and frighteningly in our city is a hate crime that is garnering attention and staining our reputation on an international scale.

I was heartened Sunday night when Bill Murray, at a quirky show at the Long Center, dedicated a song to Draylen Mason, 17, who was killed in one of the bomb incidents. Murray, aware of Mason’s talents, identified him as a player of the double bass. Murray sang the mournful Scottish lament “The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond.”

Unfortunately, it is a fitting time for mournful laments in the Live Music Capital of the World, a city that’s never been through something quite like this, a pernicious something that seems so lethal, so random, so threatening, so anywhere.

I hurried home Monday when told there was a package at my front door. Turned out there were two: An expected one from a family member and one with my prescriptions. There is a uniquely unsettling feeling when the routine becomes threatening.

The closest incidents I can think of that are in any way similar to what we’re now going through were the rock-throwing attacks on Interstate 35 and the series of assaults on local hike-and-bike trails. Awful as those were, they were location specific. These bombings are finding folks at home.

READ: Reaction to bombings echoes panic over Austin’s 1880s serial killer

This is from Austinite Laura Stromberg Hoke on Facebook: “I came home yesterday to a package on our front porch. I left my daughter in the car, and then I grabbed a soccer ball from our yard, stood behind a tree and threw the soccer ball at the package to see if it would explode. Insanity.”


At a Tuesday briefing, Austin Council Member Ann Kitchen said, “We are all very concerned and part of that concern are people’s feelings that this feels so random, feels like something out of their control, feels like something they don’t know what to expect.”

Interim Police Chief Brian Manley tried to offer a response with the proper measures of vigilance and reassurance. But he couldn’t slalom around this truth: “I cannot sit here and tell you whether there will be another incident. Based on what we’ve seen, we have no reason to believe that there would not be.”

Maybe you’re among those who, given what we know about the facts and victims to date, are sure what we are seeing is hatred at its hateful worst.

• Or maybe you surmise something more intramural. Maybe – fueled in part by police comments about a drug raid on the block where one of the explosions occurred – you see drug dealers or other criminal elements meting out their own perverted form of justice in their unjust world. Nothing we know about the victims so far would lend credence to that. But, for some, that remains the first surmise.

Racism. Drug deals gone bad. What else has crossed our minds? What other theories can be theorized based on the relatively little we know about this case and the whole lot we know about the world in which we live?

RELATED: Investigators race to decode hidden message in Austin bombings

• There’s this: We are a society that produces twisted minds with twisted motives for murder and mayhem, sometimes on a mass and random and senseless scale. Often – too often – it’s done with guns and ammunition legally acquired. In this case, as far as we know from what investigators have told us, it’s being done with materials readily available at stores and, I’ll surmise, instructions readily available online.

I’m open to other suggestions as to what’s going on here. But I invite you to see which of the above conclusions you’ve jumped to. It perhaps will tell you something about yourself and your thoughts about the city and world in which you live.

And why it’s so dangerous to jump to conclusions.

“Oh, ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road,” Murray sang here Sunday night, coincidentally, and unknown to him at the time, 30 minutes or so after the fourth local bomb blast. “And I’ll be in Scotland a’fore ye.”

We mourn those lost and those injured in these explosions. In this time of trial and challenge, the high road is the path to take.

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