An unemployed 23-year-old who was home-schooled growing up and had dropped out of community college, Austin serial bomber suspect Mark Conditt struggled to adjust to adulthood.
Interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said Wednesday evening that Conditt, a Pflugerville resident, left a “confession” in the form of a 25-minute video message on his cellphone that detailed and explained his actions during the previous three weeks.
“He does not at all mention anything about terrorism, nor does he mention anything about hate,” Manley said. “But instead it is the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his personal life.”
Officials said that Conditt spent the last 20 days of his life terrorizing Austin with a series of seemingly random bombings, leading hundreds of local, state and federal investigators in a game of cat and mouse that ended before dawn Wednesday.
As police moved to arrest him after stopping his car on the frontage road of Interstate 35 in Round Rock, Conditt apparently detonated a bomb inside his vehicle, injuring at least one officer.
Jeremiah Jensen, 24, who was friends with Conditt when they were both being home-schooled in Pflugerville, said he understood part of the reason Conditt struggled.
“It’s just very difficult for a lot of (home school) kids to find a way to fit in once they are out in the real world,” said Jensen, 24. “I have a feeling that is what happened with Mark. I don’t remember him ever being sure of what he wanted to do.”
As the sun rose and police swarmed the Pflugerville street where Conditt’s parents live, neighbors struggled to wrap their minds around the news.
“I know this is a cliché, but I just can’t imagine that,” said Jeff Reeb, whose grandson grew up playing with Conditt on Pfluger Street. Reeb described Conditt, who had three younger sisters, as a nice kid from a great family.
Jensen, who knew Conditt best when they were both of high school age, said Conditt came from a good family, was athletic, enjoyed rock climbing and parkour and was a “deep thinker.”
But Conditt also was “really rough around the edges” and sometimes difficult to deal with, Jensen said. “He was a very assertive person and would … end up being kind of dominant and intimidating in conversation.
“A lot of people didn’t understand him and where he was coming from,” Jensen said. “He really just wanted to tell the truth.” Jensen said he was saddened to learn his friend had “succumbed to hatred of some sort.”
“I have no idea what caused him to make those bombs,” he said. “Whatever it was, I wish he would have reached out to me and asked for help or something.”
After the grim realization that Conditt was the suspect in the serial bombings, which killed a 39-year-old father on March 2 and a 17-year-old high school student on March 12 and injured others, members of Conditt’s family said in a statement Wednesday that they were grieving and in shock.
“We are devastated and broken at the news that our family could be involved in such an awful way. We had no idea of the darkness that Mark must have been in,” the relatives, who live in Colorado, said in the statement.
Conditt and his father, Pat Conditt, purchased a Pflugerville property last year that is now valued at about $69,000. Reeb said that Mark Conditt had been living in that house, which he was renovating with his father’s help. He had two roommates, who were questioned by the FBI on Wednesday about what they knew about Mark Conditt’s bomb-making.
Conditt studied business administration at Austin Community College’s Northridge Campus from 2010 to 2012; officials said he never graduated. Conditt at some point worked at Crux Semiconductor in Austin as a “purchasing Agent/buyer/shipping and receiving,” according to a profile on a job recruiting website. He previously worked as a computer repair technician.
There are very few public social media posts under his name.
His mother, Danene Conditt, posted a picture of him in February 2013 to mark his completing a high school-level education.
“I officially graduated Mark from High School on Friday. 1 down, 3 to go. He has 30 hrs of college credit too, but he’s thinking of taking some time to figure out what he wants to do….maybe a mission trip,” she wrote. “Thanks to everyone for your support over the years.”
In 2012, when he was 17 years old, Conditt laid out his political views in a series of blog posts he wrote for an ACC course on U.S. government, describing himself as generally conservative but not politically inclined. It’s not clear whether politics played any role in the bombings, but the blog posts provide insight into Conditt’s thinking as he was growing up.
He wrote that he was against gay marriage and abortion and in favor of the death penalty. He also wrote that he supported doing away with the sex offender registration system.
“So you have a guy who committed a crime. Will putting him on a (sex offender) list make it better? Wouldn’t this only make people shun him, keep him from getting a job, and making friends? Just for a crime that he may have committed over 15 years ago as a adolescent? On a side note, one fifth of all rapes are committed by a juvenile,” Conditt wrote.
Arguing against gay marriage, he wrote that homosexuality is “not natural.”
“Just look at the male and female bodies. They are obviously designed to couple. The natural design is apparent. It is not natural to couple male with male and female with female. It would be like trying to fit two screws together and to nuts together and then say, ‘See, it’s natural for them to go together.’”
Conditt used to regularly attend services at the Austin Stone Community Church on St. John’s Avenue in Austin, Jensen said. The church, however, said in a statement Wednesday that it had no record of Conditt being active there recently.
Tim Lambert, president of the Texas Home School Coalition, issued a statement Wednesday that emphasized Conditt had stopped attending church at some point in adulthood.
“Raised by both parents in a Christian home, Conditt reportedly walked away from his faith several years ago,” the statement said. “Today’s revelations about the Austin bombings provide a stark reminder that we live in a fallen world. Unfortunately, no form of education, public or private, can ensure a tragedy like this will never happen.”
Jensen said he thought Conditt had turned a corner a few years ago and hoped that he would find stability.
“He had come a long way and that he had softened a lot of those rough edges. He was getting better at socializing with people,” Jensen said. “I always thought that he would eventually find his wings and become someone who was stable and had a great inner life and family and go on to live a good life.
“This came out of nowhere.”