Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Parents Shocked After Son ID'd As Bomber: 'We Had No Idea of the Darkness That Mark Must Have Been In'
MAR 21, 2018 | 2:00 PM
Los Angeles Times
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley comments on what they know about the bombing suspect.
Investigators detained and questioned two roommates of the Austin bombing suspect Wednesday as officials sought to determine whether Mark Anthony Conditt had any help as he terrorized Texas' capital city over the last month.

One of the roommates already has been released, while the other was still being questioned, Austin police said in a statement on Twitter, declining to release any names because no charges had been filed.

Officials also announced they had filed a federal bomb-possession charge and arrest warrant against Conditt late Tuesday, shortly before the suspected bomber blew himself up early Wednesday morning following a brief police chase in the Austin suburb of Round Rock.

"Hundreds of federal, state and local law enforcement officers worked together to identify and locate Conditt," U.S. Atty. John F. Bash said in a statement. The affidavit supporting the complaint, which might give details on how officials zeroed in on Conditt, remained under seal Wednesday afternoon.

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Officials warned that Conditt may have planted or mailed more bombs before killing himself, and more than a dozen square blocks of his hometown of Pflugerville, a northeastern suburb of Austin, were evacuated as officials searched the area.

While investigators have not revealed a possible motive for Conditt's actions, a portrait emerged Wednesday of an introverted Christian conservative who had been home-schooled and worked at a local manufacturing company before being fired last year.

In a statement released to CNN, Conditt's parents said they were in shock and grieved for the victims in the string of bombings.

"We are devastated and broken at the news that our family could be involved in such an awful way," the family said. "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. We are grieving and we are in shock."

In Pflugerville, federal and local law enforcement officials searched two sheds and trash bins outside the Conditts' multistory home. The shades were drawn, and a U.S. flag flew out front.

Austin police homicide Det. David Fugitt said Conditt's family has been "very cooperative," 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," Fugitt said.

"They're having a difficult time," Fugitt said. "It's understandable with everything they have had to deal with. This is certainly a shock to the conscience. They're taking it in stride. They're having a difficult time as well, which would be expected."

Conditt took classes at Austin Community College between 2010 and 2012 and was home-schooled, according to college officials and social media posts from his mother, who said he graduated high school in 2013.

"He's thinking of taking some time to figure out what he wants to do....maybe a mission trip," said a Facebook post from Danene Conditt, which included a photo of Mark Conditt.

In an old blog under Mark Conditt's name, started apparently as part of a community college class assignment, the author wrote in 2012 that he was conservative but "not that politically inclined," writing posts opposing abortion, favoring the death penalty and arguing that gay marriage should be illegal.

"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," read the blog's biography page. "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."

In a post in favor of the death penalty, the author wrote, "Living criminals harm and murder, again - executed ones do not." The blog's final post is dated May 2012.

One of Conditt's former friends, Jeremiah Jensen, 24 — who was home-schooled in Pflugerville and attended the community college at the same time as Jensen — said that Conditt's blog posts for class were being taken out of context in media reports.

"Certainly a lot of the home-school community in Pflugerville, Texas, is conservative and a lot of kids were raised that way," Jensen said. "I think a lot of people jump to conclusions and want to make him out to be a conservative terrorist. But I think it has more to do with loneliness and anger than it has to do with anything else."

Conditt was smart, "straight-laced" and "definitely came off as a little intense, and it was hard for him to get along with people and make friends," said Jensen, now a freelance journalist living in Dallas. "A lot of people didn't really understand him or how to speak his language."

But "he was actually a very kind person, when I knew him," said Jensen, adding that the two had not spoken for several years.

Community college officials said that he was a business administration major and did not graduate, but that he left in good academic standing. His last classes were in 2012.

"We are working with Austin Police Department to provide any information they need," college spokeswoman Jessica Vess said in an email.

Information about Conditt's home schooling could not be obtained from Texas state education officials. "Texas has no authority over home schooling, and we don't keep any type of school records on such," said DeEtta Culbertson, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency.

Jeff Reeb, a neighbor of the Conditts since they moved to the area 17 years ago, described Conditt as "a quiet youngster" who played with Reeb's grandson.

Conditt, who had two younger sisters, moved away from home in recent years and bought a house but returned to visit, Reeb said.

On Conditt's blog in 2012, he listed his hobbies as cycling, parkour, tennis, reading and listening to music. The Conditt home has a deck, a trampoline, a treehouse and a pool in a large, grassy yard.

"They're church-going people, extremely good neighbors. I like them a lot," Reeb said, adding that he was surprised to see reporters arrive at his street, the first clue the bombing suspect could be someone he knew.

Reeb said he saw the Conditts daily and last saw the suspect visit his parents last week — which would have been after the bombings began.

"I was hoping they were wrong," Reeb said of reports identifying Mark Conditt as the bombing suspect, adding that he didn't recognize Conditt in surveillance footage from an Austin FedEx store that showed the bomber with long, blond hair. "I'm not sure I still believe it. It makes no sense whatsoever."

Another of the Conditt family's neighbors, Beverly Canales, 56, a stay-at-home mom, said she did not know the family, although her two daughters, ages 23 and 24, attended Austin Community College about the same time Mark Conditt did.

They were scrutinizing photos of the suspected bomber Wednesday, comparing them to high school yearbooks and trying to remember whether they had seen him.

"Our little town of Pflugerville had our own Unabomber," she said.

Mark Roessler, 57, lived across the street from where Conditt lived with his two roommates, and he sometimes chatted with Conditt and Conditt's father, who came over occasionally to help remodel the home.

"It's a quiet neighborhood, and he blended right in," Roessler said.

Roessler said he saw two young men coming and going from the home recently but did not realize Conditt had roommates. When he left for his job as a manager at a medical device company at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, Roessler was met by FBI agents with guns drawn who surrounded the area and evacuated homes

"I feel for the family and for the father," Roessler said. "Having two sons of my own, I can only imagine what he is going through. The whole Austin community was living in fear. … Everybody is relieved, but still not understanding and waiting for answers."

Conditt worked for several years at a local semiconductor manufacturer, Crux Manufacturing, before he was fired in August for poor performance, according to KVUE-TV.

The business' owner, who spoke to the television station 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 that he was given several warnings for not meeting expectations before he was fired. "He would prioritize things in his own way."

An employee outside Crux on Wednesday who asked not to be identified said company officials were not answering questions.

Investigators began zeroing in on Conditt over the last two days, and officials were moving to make an arrest at a hotel in the suburb of Round Rock when Conditt began driving away, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said at a news conference.

The vehicle ran into a ditch, and as officers approached, the suspect detonated an explosive that killed him and knocked one officer back, Manley said. Police fired a single shot at the car.

Conditt's death followed days of rapid developments in the case.

On Tuesday, a bomb inside a package exploded on a conveyor belt at a FedEx shipping center in Schertz, northeast of San Antonio and about 60 miles from Austin. One worker was treated at the scene for minor injuries.

It was the fifth in a series of bombings this month that left two people dead, four others injured and the state capital shaken.

"I really wish that I could have spoken to him one more time before he went down this path," Jensen said of Conditt. "I wish I had known that he was struggling or that, you know, or had some sort of an inkling to reach out to him. … It's in the dark that people start getting angry and sad and eventually go off the deep end."
Hennessy-Fiske reported from Pflugerville, Texas; Pearce from Los Angeles.


2 p.m.: The article was updated with additional reaction.

12:40 p.m.: The article was updated with information on Conditt's roommates and further details of the investigation.

11:09 a.m.: The article was updated with additional details and reaction.

9:40 a.m.: This article was updated throughout with Times staff reporting, including comments from neighbors.

6:50 a.m.: This article was updated with an official identifying the suspect and quotes from Austin Police Chief Brian Manley and Mayor Steve Adler.

3:30 a.m.: This article was updated with additional details.

This article was originally published at 3:10 a.m.

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