Inside the convoluted mind of the Austin bomber
Police are examining a video confession by Mark Conditt to find out more about the man behind the bombing spree
He has been described as “polite” and a “deep thinker” who “really just wanted to tell the truth”, but now Texas police are examining a 20-minute video confession by Mark Conditt to find out the truth about the man who carried out a ruthless three-week bombing spree.
Conditt, 23, from the Austin suburb of Pflugerville, died in the early hours of Wednesday, killing himself in his car as a SWAT team closed in on him in the town of Round Rock, 30km from Austin.
Commenting on the video confession, Austin police chief Brian Manley said: “He does not at all mention anything about terrorism, nor does he mention anything about hate, but instead it is the outcry of a very challenged young man, talking about challenges in his personal life.”
Police said they had learnt of his identity in the previous 24 hours when he had dropped off a package at a FedEx in Austin and was caught on CCTV. They then obtained his Google search records, and found suspicious activity.
Law enforcement sources said he used the name “Kelly Killmore” to ship two packages containing bombs via FedEx shortly after 7:30pm on Sunday.
Conditt is suspected of carrying out at least five bomb attacks in the Austin area, killing two people and wounding several more. Police said he used hardware store supplies to make pipe bombs – like those used in the failed New York subway bombing late last year.
Police are unsure if he made the bombs alone or had help.
Officials have not given a motive for the bombings and Brian Manley said they were still concerned there could be more unexploded devices.
“We don’t know where this suspect has spent his last 24 hours, and therefore we need to remain vigilant to be sure no other packages have been left throughout the community,” he said.
Austin homicide detective David Fugitt said Conditt's parents and three sisters have been “very co-operative”, adding that officials didn’t have any indication the family knew Conditt was involved with the bombings.
“They have gone above and beyond to answer any questions we have had,” he said.
Family ‘devastated and broken’
On Wednesday the family issued a statement saying they were “devastated and broken” to be caught up in the attacks.
“We had no idea of the darkness that Mark must have been in. Our family is a normal family in every way. We love, we pray, and we try to inspire and serve others.
“Right now our prayers are for those families that have lost loved ones, for those impacted in any way, and for the soul of our Mark.”
Conditt lived in the Austin suburb of Pflugerville, in a house he shared with two roommates – both of whom were detained and questioned by investigators on Wednesday.
Mark Roessler, an IT manager, lived across the street from the house and said that Conditt and his father Pat bought the house about two years ago as a “fixer upper project”.
He described Conditt as “very polite” said he and his father worked together for about a year, before Conditt moved in.
“It was obvious the dad had a loving bond for his son,” said Mr Roessler. “He confided in me he was trying to build their relationship.
“Mark was quiet. He invited me into the house two or three times and I saw the remodel work.
“Mark moved in sometime last year and I haven’t seen much of him since. I would see people his age, males, come and go from the house.”
Candy Buchleitner has lived near the family for five years, keeping chickens in her backyard.
She said the suburb was normally very quiet and home to mostly older people. It backs up to about eight hectares of undeveloped land.
She did not know the family of the suspected bomber but said she was sad to hear they were grieving.
“It’s a tragedy all around,” she said. “They lost a son and now everybody is on top of them.”
Conditt was home-schooled
From an early age the siblings were all were home-schooled by their mother, Danene Conditt.
Jeremiah Jensen, 24, who was home-schooled in the same Pflugerville community as Conditt, told the American-Statesman that Conditt was a little “rough around the edges”.
“It’s really sad to think that one of my friends succumbed to hatred of some sort,” he said.
“I have no idea what caused him to make those bombs. Whatever it was I wish he would have reached out to me and asked for help or something.”
Jensen was one of only about a dozen friends listed on Conditt’s Facebook page before it was removed on Wednesday morning.
The two were close in 2012 and 2013, said Jensen, who would often go to the Conditts’ home for lunch after Sunday church service and attend Bible study and other activities together.
Jensen said Conditt came from a good family, was athletic, enjoyed rock climbing and parkour and was a “deep thinker”.
“When I met Mark, he was really rough around the edges,” 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. He really just wanted to tell the truth.
“What I remember about him he would push back on you if you said something without thinking about it. He loved to think and argue and turn things over and figure out what was really going on.”
‘Faith was a serious thing for him’
Jensen said Conditt attended regular church services at the Austin Stone Community Church.
“I know faith was a serious thing for him,” he said. “I don’t know if he held onto his faith or not … The kind of anger that he expressed and the kind of hate that he succumbed to — that’s not what he believed in high school. I don’t know what happened along the way. This wasn’t him.”
Jensen said he and many of his fellow homeschooled pupils felt lonely.
“It’s just very difficult for a lot of kids to find a way to fit in once they are out in the real world,” he said. “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 part of his studies he appears to have written a blog, with six postings discussing social and political issues between January and May 2012.
Introducing himself, he wrote: “I enjoy cycling, parkour, tennis, reading and listening to music.
‘Moderate conservative leanings’
“I am not that politically inclined. I view myself as a conservative, but I don’t think I have enough information to defend my stance as well as it should be defended.
“The reasons I am taking this class is because I want to understand the US government, and I hope that it will help me clarify my stance, and then defend it.”
His postings show him to be of moderate conservative leanings – against gay marriage and abortion, and in favour of the death penalty.
Donna Sebastian Harp, who has known the family for 18 years, described Conditt as a quiet man from a “tight-knit, godly family”.
“He was a nerd, always reading, devouring books and computers and things like that,” Harp said.
Mrs Conditt posted a photo her son in February 2013 on Facebook, saying: “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. Thanks to everyone for your support over the years.”
After completing his studies Conditt worked for several years at a local semiconductor manufacturer, Crux Manufacturing, before being fired last August for poor performance.
The business’s owner, who spoke anonymously, said Conditt “seemed like a smart kid who showed a lot of promise” and worked in purchasing and sales.
“He was very quiet and introverted, and did not have any confrontations with management,” the owner said, adding he was given several warnings for not meeting expectations before he was fired.
“He would prioritise things in his own way.”
Delton Southern, owner of Delton’s Pecan Street Barber Shop, said both Conditt and the first of his victims, Anthony Stephan House, a 39-year-old construction worker, had their hair cut there.
“I lost two clients,” he said. “One a youngster who lived across the street, and House, who came here for more than five years.”
Asked about the coincidence, he replied: “That’s very weird.”
– © The Daily Telegraph