AUSTIN, TX — As the city’s residents collectively exhale after a frightening series of bombings that put residents on edge, Austin Mayor Steve Adler offered his thoughts about the shared ordeal.
Starting on March 2, a series of parcel bombs sent by Mark Anthony Conditt, 23, killed two and injured others. Most of the lethal packages were left on unsuspecting victims’ porches or doorsteps, but later Conditt switched to FedEx to send more — a move that would spell his doom. Switching his delivery method enabled law enforcement to more effectively track him, and he would blow himself up in Round Rock to elude capture.
An autopsy summation released on Monday confirmed he died of his own hand last Wednesday, killed violently by the very deadly shrapnel he used to weaponize the packages delivered to victims.
The nightmare was over.
But phantom vestiges of lingering anxiety remain, and many residents now eye erstwhile commonplace objects — an unattended backpack, a misplaced piece of luggage, an errant box, a handbag left upon a counter — with suspicion and a measure of fear.
Activities once viewed as mundane now yield unwarranted worry: The implosion of a downtown Austin buildingon Sunday — the biggest in city history and the first in a decade — would otherwise go unnoticed by many were it not by heightened alerts from officials assuring residents that the sounds heard early Sunday were intentional, controlled detonations and not the work of a terroristic perpetrator intent on killing innocents.
Ironically, the bombings came as SXSW was in full swing. What should’ve been an opportunity for unfettered celebration of the arts was suddenly suffused with anxiety given the massive crowds and potential for more injuries or death. Mass gatherings are new imbued with the aura of bravery as residents rebuke the tactics of fear, instead galvanized toward common causes, such as Saturday’s "March For Our Lives" rally when thousands converged on the Texas Capitol grounds demanding common-sense gun control measures to at least curb future mass shootings.
In a message to residents distributed via email on Monday, Adler acknowledged the changed post-bombings dynamics of the city — characteristics perhaps irrevocably altered. This was, after all, one of those seminal moments in municipal history that everyone will remember, recalling where they were when the violent episode began.
But rather than succumb to fear, Adler sees an opportunity for renewed strength and resolve. After many sleepless nights, he prefers to focus not on the darkness but the light. And while "we can’t and shouldn’t go back to life as it was," Adler framed the future as one in which neighbors make more of an effort to know each other and watch over one another.
Following is the full message from Adler to the city’s residents:
"Over the last three weeks, our community lost two of its brightest lights, and four others were injured. These senseless murders and attacks have struck at the core of our city, one of the safest big cities in the nation.
"Austin should remember the fallen victims of these attacks. Both good men, Stephan House and Draylen Mason made our city a better place, and we have all lost with their murders.
"I want to convey my sincere thanks to the FBI, the ATF, Texas DPS, and our own Austin Police Department. Chief Manley, Agent Combs, Agent Milanowski, and all of the law enforcement officers that worked this case on the ground and around the country deserve our gratitude. I also want to thank Governor Abbott for his support and resources during this ordeal.
"Our city is stronger now. We made it through this together. I know that many in the city were afraid, and that many were terrorized by these attacks. Austinites began to question simple routines and daily decisions.
"I didn’t sleep much in the past few weeks. I’ve been out to the scenes and spoken with hundreds of Austinites in targeted neighborhoods and at community meetings. I’ve been focused on rallying the community and trying to get information out in a timely manner. I wanted everyone to know to be safe and to make sure that our city knew what was happening on the ground.
"We won’t let Stephan and Draylen slip from our minds, and our prayers are with Ms. [Esperanza] Herrera and the other injured and all the families. We can’t and shouldn’t go back to life as it was.
"I’m sending this e-mail because I want you to know that our city is okay. We know that different communities in Austin see and process these events differently because our experiences in this city are not the same. This is part of our renewed and on-going conversation about equity in our city and these recent events reinforce the importance of continuing this work to change institutions.
"But another thing is also apparent from the last couple weeks — we will be a stronger community if we know our neighbors better. So, I’m also asking you to do something.
"I want you to go outside, knock on some doors, and meet neighbors that you may not know. Maybe it’s the house across the street. Maybe it’s the house down the street. But I need you to go and meet your neighbors, your fellow Austinites. If you live in an apartment building or complex, maybe it’s the unit upstairs, or maybe it’s the folks across the hall. Meet your neighbors. Get to know them. Our city will be safer as a result because we will know each other better.
"Austin, we have got to look out for each other. We have got to get each other’s back, just like we did these past couple weeks. I hope you’ll join me in reaching out. We can help each other more if we know each other better.
"The last three weeks have been tough. We’re getting and we’ll get through this, Austin. And we’ll be stronger for it."
>>> Photo of Austin Mayor Steve Adler via City of Austin