The city of Austin, Texas, is on edge after authorities said Monday they believe that three package explosions occurring at different homes this month, causing the death of two people, are connected.
As the Washington Post notes, the announcement has spiked fears in the Texas state capital, which is also hosting tens of thousands of people for the world-renowned South by Southwest Conference and Festivals.
While authorities said that it is too early to say what motivated the attacks, they did not rule out the possibility of a hate crime. The two people killed in the blasts—a 17-year-old boy and a 39-year-old man—were both black. A 75-year-old woman who was seriously injured in one of the explosions is Hispanic. Another woman was injured in one of the Monday blasts but escaped with non-life-threatening injuries.
According to the Post, the first explosion occurred March 2. A package left on the front porch of a Northeast Austin home exploded, killing 39-year-old Anthony Stephan House. House was the stepson of Freddie Dixon, a former pastor at a historic black church in Austin.
At the time, police said that while the death was “suspicious,” they believed it was an isolated incident, posing no further threat to the community.
On Monday, that theory rapidly changed when a pair of packages exploded at homes several miles apart within hours of each other. The report notes that investigators were still responding to the first blast, which killed the 17-year-old boy, when the second blast went off at a house farther south, seriously injuring the Hispanic woman.
Police would later confirm that those cases were connected to each other as well as to House’s March 2 death.
Both the police and the FBI are working together to solve the case, and in the meantime, authorities are asking residents to be careful when they see unexpected packages on their doorsteps. Officials said the packages that exploded did not come through the mail or other standard delivery service.
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley would only say that the explosives arrived in “box-type deliveries,” declining to go into further detail, citing the investigation. Manley added that it was not clear whether the victims were the specific targets of the packages.
As the Washington Post reports, House and the 17-year-old killed were relatives of prominent members of Austin’s black community.
“This is a real mystery, and how all of this mystery comes together, I have no idea,” Dixon, House’s stepfather, told the Post.
The 17-year-old who was killed has not been formally identified, but Dixon noted that he is good friends with Norman Mason, the teen’s grandfather. Mason, a dentist, is known for having mentored black student-athletes at the University of Texas at Austin for decades. His wife, LaVonne Mason, is the co-founder of the Austin Area Urban League.
“Are you trying to say something to prominent African-American families?” Dixon asked. “I don’t know who they’ve been targeting, but for sure, they went and got one of my best friends’ grandson. Somebody knew the connection.”
That being said, Dixon noted that he did not know the woman who was injured in the third blast.
In all of the cases, according to police, the victim came outside the home, found the package—which, again, was not delivered by the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, FedEx or any such reliable service—and picked it up when it detonated.
“It’s not time to panic, but it’s time to be vigilant,” Manley said.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office is offering a $15,000 reward for information leading to the person or people behind the “atrocious attacks.”
“I want to assure all Texans, and especially those in Austin, that local, state and federal law enforcement officials are working diligently to find those responsible for these heinous crimes,” Abbott said in a statement.