'No one is really safe': Austin residents fear further attacks by suspected serial bomber

Ellen Troxclair, a city councillor in Austin, says people in the Texas city are on edge.

Coun. Ellen Troxclair says people in the Texas city are on edge after 4th bombing in 2 weeks

An agent the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives works with his dog near the site of Sunday's explosion on March 19 in Austin, Texas. (Eric Gay/Associated Press)
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With a fourth bombing in just over two weeks, police in Austin, Texas, are warning of a possible serial bomber.

Earlier this month, three separate package bombs were delivered to homes around the city. The blasts killed two African-American men and severely injured a 75-year-old Hispanic woman.

Yesterday's explosion was different. The latest bomb was placed on the side of a residential road and detonated by tripwire.

Two men were wounded in the explosion and are expected to recover. Still, residents are on alert.

Ellen Troxclair is a city councillor in Austin. She told As It Happens host Carol Off how the community is feeling.

Two men were injured in the explosion that was detonated by tripwire in a residential neighbourhood. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

You were on the scene today. What can you tell us about what's going on there?

It's just really scary. This is the fourth in a recent string of bombings that we've had all over the city now. The most recent was in my district, in a neighborhood called Travis Country, where people are still sheltering in place.

We've received updates from the Austin Police Department as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI, and we have over 500 federal agents in town, on the ground, helping our local police department to address this issue and make sure that these bombings stop.

Those 500 officers at this point have had between 400 and 500 leads. They've conducted hundreds of interviews. The plea that the police are giving today is interesting. They're saying to the bomber: 'We hear you with your explosions. We don't know what you're trying to say. What is it that you want us to understand?' What do you make of that?

I'm still confused about it myself. ... The [bomb] today, of course, was a trip wire and it was two 20-year-old males who were walking down the street and the bomb was detonated that way.

This is a higher level of sophistication which increases the fear and uncertainty in the mind of the local citizens. And it's in a different geographic location in southwest Austin. It seems like the message is kind of that no one is really safe right now.

There is extra diligence and awareness to make sure that anything that we see is out of place is being reported and then followed up with by our local police department.

Sunday's explosion came just hours after police made a direct public appeal to the person, or persons, who carried out the previous bombings to come forward. (Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP/Getty Images)

What's the mood in your district in southwest Austin?

People are scared and rightfully so. This is normally a really safe part of a city, a really quiet neighbourhood where this happened. I think that people had gotten the message that they're being diligent about checking packages on their doorstep [and] making sure that they weren't opening things from people that they didn't know, et cetera.

So to have this shift, I think, really caught people off guard. They're still on lockdown until 2:00 p.m. or later today and mainly not because they're in danger ... but because the police need time to process the evidence and process the scene without it being disturbed.

Are police still considering it might be a hate crime as they were last week?

I heard them say that they're not ruling anything out, but I think certainly with the direction that it's taken last night that that scenario is not quite as likely. This is a predominantly white neighbourhood and so I would be surprised if this was racially charged.

Police dogs and their handlers deploy at the scene of an explosion in southwest Austin on March 18. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

What do you tell your own family? How do you instruct them?

We're not going to be taking our daughter on walks in the neighbourhood.… Although you want people to be able to go about their daily lives and not be kind of ruled by fear, you want to be careful and you do want to take precautions.

I share the same fear that my constituents do. That you don't know where or when something might happen next. I was really hopeful that going through the weekend, [there were] really no incidents. That hopefully they were getting closer to finding who is responsible or the person responsible had decided after he killed a 17-year-old that maybe enough was enough.

Unfortunately that's not the case. I'm just hoping that it doesn't escalate and that all of the resources and manpower that we have shared between the local and the federal agents, they can follow up on all the leads and come to a conclusion soon.


Written by Jason Vermes. Interview produced by Imogen Birchard. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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