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Investigators Trying To Piece Together Final Days Of Austin Bomber's Life


The day after the Texas serial bomber killed himself, the Austin community continues to wrestle with the maddening question of why. Two people died and several more were injured in the city's terrifying crime spree. The bomber constructed seven shrapnel bombs, six of which detonated. As NPR's John Burnett reports, for some residents getting back to normal is not so easy.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Yesterday evening, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley faced the cameras and told a questioning city what was in a confessional message recorded by the serial bomber shortly before he blew himself up as police closed in.


BRIAN MANLEY: He does not at all mention anything about terrorism. Nor does he mention anything about hate.

BURNETT: The chief describes the killer as a very challenged young man. That's not enough for Adeila Owens. Her close friend and musical inspiration, a gifted 17-year-old bassist named Draylen Mason, was killed on March 12. He opened a package left on his porch that was filled with nails and explosives. His mother was seriously hurt in the blast also. That to Owens is a hate crime.

ADEILA OWENS: I mean, it takes a lot of negative feelings to murder somebody whether you know them or not. So I - like, why else would you murder somebody?

BURNETT: Adeila Owens is 18. She grabs a coffee on her way to high school. She's about to graduate. She plays classical bass. Before Draylen's death, she was a happy teenager waiting for word of which music school she was accepted in. Now Owens is afraid. She also thinks about school shootings.

OWENS: I've been terrified with all of this for my friends to go home. I'm like, text me when you're home. Why? Just do it. Call me when you're home. Send me a picture of you in your house, home. After Dray left, I can't lose anybody else.

BURNETT: In the hours since the killer killed himself, there's been an outpouring of thanks from the community to the detectives, bomb techs, surveillance teams, behavioral analysts, forensic scientists and beat cops who finally cornered the bomber. The federal government alone sent more than 350 people. Investigators finally located the murderer late Tuesday night. They used a combination of FedEx security video, mobile phone locating technology, store receipt searches and shoe leather. Here's Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore.


MARGARET MOORE: It can never be called a happy ending, but it's a damn good one for the people of this community and the state of Texas. And I appreciate the opportunity to work with these amazingly fine individuals. And all of them...

BURNETT: It was quite an effort, says Fred Burton. He's with a global security consulting company called Stratfor based in Austin. He used to work counterterrorism cases for the State Department.

FRED BURTON: I've worked bombing investigations and terrorist attacks that you couldn't get that many resources deployed to some of these events.

BURNETT: There's been criticism that the Austin Police Department should have taken the first bombing on March 2 more seriously and alerted the community about package bombs sooner. Some community members suggest the police response would have been different had the first victims been white. Burton, who sits on the Greater Austin Crime Commission, points out that the department is short 300 officers. And in early March, it was preparing for the huge South by Southwest festival and conference.

BURTON: And then you have this bombing that occurred. I do think that that perhaps could have been handled a little quicker.

BURNETT: But Austin remains grateful. Today a downtown barbecue joint offered free sausage, ribs and brisket to everyone who helped stop the serial bomber. John Burnett, NPR News, Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.