Package Bound For Austin Blows Up At FedEx Facility Near San Antonio

Tuesday, March 20th 2018, 5:59 am
By: News On 6

A package bomb believed to be linked to recent bombings in Austin exploded early Tuesday inside a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio, leaving one worker with minor injuries, authorities said. An FBI agent told CBS News "it's more than possible" the package at the facility is related to explosions that have occurred in Austin in recent days.

FBI agent Michelle Lee said the explosion Tuesday happened around 1 a.m. at a FedEx facility in Schertz, which is just northeast of San Antonio and about 60 miles southwest of Austin.

"It would be silly for us not to admit that we suspect it's related" to the other four Austin bombings since March 2, said Lee. She did not have details about the size, weight or description of the package.

The San Antonio Police Department said later Tuesday that its police chief was mistaken when he had said that investigators found a second package bomb that hadn't detonated at the FedEx distribution center. The department said in a news release police Chief William McManus misspoke at a news conference earlier Tuesday and that there was only one package bomb at the Schertz facility -- the one that exploded. It forwarded any inquiries to the FBI and Austin Police Department.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton earlier told The Associated Press that there was a "suspicion" of another package, but he stopped short of confirming there were two.

ATF and FBI agents were at the scene of the FedEx facility Tuesday morning analyzing components of the explosive device. They were looking for any similarities of ingredients or components that are "a signature" that would link this package explosion to the other four bombing incidents in Austin, reports CBS News senior investigative producer Pat Milton.

Schertz Police Chief Michael Hansen said the package was moving along an automated conveyor belt when it exploded, and that an employee standing near the blast later complained of ringing in the ears. She was treated and then released, according to Hansen. 

Officials said the package bomb that exploded early Tuesday apparently went out from a FedEx store in the Austin enclave of Sunset Valley and was addressed to an Austin home.

Hours after the blast, police sent a hazardous-materials team to a FedEx facility in Austin to check on a suspicious package there. There was no immediate word about whether that package contained explosives.

Television station KXAN-TV also reported Tuesday that a Whole Foods store in Austin was evacuated while police investigated a report of a suspicious package. A Whole Foods press contact confirmed to CBS News that its Arbor Trails store had been evacuated, and the Austin Police Department later said an all clear was given.

The FedEx blast came less than two days after another bombing wounded two men Sunday night in a quiet Austin neighborhood. It was triggered by a nearly invisible tripwire, suggesting a "higher level of sophistication" than agents saw in three package bombs left on doorsteps, according to Fred Milanowski, agent in charge of the Houston division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

Authorities have not identified the two men who were hurt Sunday, saying only that they are in their 20s and white. But William Grote told The Associated Press on Monday that his grandson was one of them and that he had what appeared to be nails embedded in his knees.

Police described the men's injuries as significant, and both remained hospitalized Monday in stable condition.

Grote said his grandson was in a lot of pain. On the night of the bombing, one of the victims was riding a bike in the street and the other was on a sidewalk when they crossed a tripwire that he said knocked "them both off their feet."

"It was so dark they couldn't tell, and they tripped," he said. "They didn't see it. It was a wire. And it blew up."

Grote said his son, who lives about 100 yards from the blast, heard the explosion and raced outside to find both of the young men bleeding profusely.

The presence of a tripwire was a departure from the first three bombings, which involved parcels left on doorsteps that detonated when moved or opened.

The tripwire heightened fears around Austin, a town famous for its cool, hipster attitude. "It's creepy," said Erin Mays, 33. "I'm not a scared person, but this feels very next-door-neighbor kind of stuff."

In Washington, President Donald Trump said the assailant behind the bombing is "very sick." During an Oval Office meeting Tuesday with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Mr. Trump described the situation as "terrible."

"This is obviously a very sick individual or individuals," and authorities are "working to get to the bottom of it."

Police repeated prior warnings about not touching unexpected packages and issued new ones to be wary of any stray object left in public, especially ones with protruding wires.

"We're very concerned that with tripwires, a child could be walking down a sidewalk and hit something," Christopher Combs, FBI agent in charge of the bureau's San Antonio division, said in an interview.

Police originally pointed to possible hate crimes, but the victims have now been black, Hispanic and white and from different parts of the city.

"We are clearly dealing with what we believe to be a serial bomber at this point," Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said, citing similarities among the four bombs. He would not elaborate, saying he did not want to undermine the investigation.

While the first three bombings all occurred east of Interstate 35, a section of town that tends to be more heavily minority and less affluent, Sunday's was west of the highway. The differences in location, the lack of a motive and other unknowns make it harder to draw conclusions about any possible pattern.

Thad Holt said he is now watching his steps as he makes his way through a section of town near the latest attack. "I think everybody can now say, 'Oh, that's like my neighborhood,'" he said.

The latest bomb was anchored to a metal yard sign near the head of a hiking trail, Milanowski said.

"It was a thin wire or filament, kind of like fishing line," he said. "It would have been very difficult for someone to see."

Police asked anyone with surveillance cameras at home to come forward with the footage on the chance it captured suspicious vehicles or people.

Manley, chief of the Austin Police Department, urged people to remain vigilant.