AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — An explosion that may have been detonated by a tripwire tore through Texas’ capital and injured two people, leading police to warn nearby residents to remain indoors overnight as investigators looked for possible links to three package bombings elsewhere in the city this month.
The latest blast occurred around 8:30 p.m. Sunday in a southwestern Austin residential neighborhood known as Travis Country, which is far from the sites of the three earlier bombings. Those all occurred over two-plus weeks in residential neighborhoods east of Interstate 35, which divides the city. Although investigators wouldn’t immediately confirm what caused the blast, Austin’s police chief, Brian Manley, said “a device” was responsible and again warned the public not to touch any unexpected packages left at their homes.
“What we have right now is a scene where it is obvious that an explosion has taken place,” Manley said at a hastily organized news conference near the site of the latest blast.
Hours later, responding to reports that the latest explosion may have been detonated by a tripwire, Manley told another briefing with reporters in the wee hours of Monday morning that it was possibly “someone either handling, kicking or coming into contact with a tripwire that activated the device.”
He urged people within half a mile to stay in their homes and said authorities would keep the surrounding area blocked off until further notice because of overnight darkness and the “size of the area that we want to go in and check.”
“We want to put out the message that we’ve been putting out and that is, not only do not touch any packages or anything that looks like a package, do not even go near it at this time,” Manley said. Because “we have not had an opportunity to look at this blast site to really determine what has happened.”
Manley also said authorities had worked to “clear” a suspicious backpack found in the area that was part of a separate report.
Police kept residential streets on lockdown, gradually expanding their barricades and closing off all roads into the neighborhood. Before daybreak Monday, Austin police pushed another alert to cellphones advising residents to continue staying indoors and to call 911 if they needed to leave their homes before 10 a.m. Austin’s school district announced that buses wouldn’t be going into the Travis Country neighborhood because of police activity and that any “tardies or absences due to this situation will be excused.”
Two men in their 20s were hurt in the latest blast. Police said they were hospitalized with injuries that weren’t life-threatening. It was the fourth explosion to rock Austin in less than three weeks.
The first was a package bomb that exploded at a northeast Austin home on March 2, killing a 39-year-old man. Two more package bombs then exploded farther south on March 12, killing a 17-year-old, wounding his mother and injuring a 75-year-old woman.
Police said all three of those were likely related and involved packages that had not been mailed or delivered by private carrier but left overnight on doorsteps. Manley originally suggested they could have been hate crimes since all the victims of the first three explosions were black or Hispanic, but now says that investigators aren’t ruling out any possible motive.
Manley last week urged residents receiving unexpected packages to call authorities without touching or opening them, and police responded to hundreds of calls about suspicious packages but didn’t find anything dangerous. He continued to make similar please each time he spoke with reporters Sunday and Monday.
The latest explosion came hours after authorities raised the reward by $50,000 for information leading to the arrest of whoever is responsible for the first three explosions. It now totals $115,000.
Sunday also was the final day of the South By Southwest music festival, which draws hundreds of thousands to Austin every March. It is also the end of spring break for many area school districts, meaning families who were out of town in recent days are returning to a city increasingly on edge.
The explosions occurred far from the main South By Southwest activities, though a downtown concert by hip-hop band The Roots was canceled Saturday night after a bomb threat. Authorities later arrested a 26-year-old man, and the incident did not appear to be related to any previous explosions.