Through never-before-seen footage and in-depth interviews, “The FBI Declassified” takes you inside the minds of heroic federal agents and analysts as they reveal how they solved some of the biggest cases of their careers. Watch Tuesdays at 10/9c on CBS.
Produced by Josh Gaynor
In March 2018, aplanted five explosive devices in packages and placed one next to a trip wire on a suburban street in Austin, Texas. Unsuspecting residents found packages outside their homes. The packages were designed to explode when they were picked up and moved. Two people were killed and four more injured.
The FBI deployed more than 600 agents and analysts to work with other federal and local law enforcement agencies, including the Austin Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“The FBI will bring 20 people to a two-man fight. That’s the way we do things,” says FBI Special Agent bomb technician Michael Call. “So, if the FBI is going to target you and you’re doing something criminal, terrorist, we will not stop. Period.”
Investigators searched through charred bomb fragments and scorched electronics to identify individual parts of the explosive devices. That led them to big box hardware stores and hundreds of hours of surveillance footage.
“A lot of things can happen from a tidbit of information that I come up with. So, I always feel that responsibility, that burden of doing my job right.” says analyst Jordana Nesvog, who visited crime scenes as part of the FBI’s Evidence Response Team.
“When people are getting package bombs delivered to their doorstep, it terrorizes people,” says FBI Special Agent Justin Wilson. “When I was in Afghanistan, you expect bombs to go off. When you’re in Austin, Texas, you don’t.”
“WE’VE GOT A PROBLEM”
: Austin 911.
CALLER: We heard an explosion.
911 OPERATOR: Female screaming that something exploding asking for EMS.
Michael Call | FBI Special Agent bomb technician: We’ve got a problem. …We’ve got somebody building devices in Austin and targeting people.
AUSTIN POLICE CHIEF BRIAN MANLEY [to reporters]: There are innocent people getting hurt in this community and it needs to come to a stop.
Christopher Combs: My name is Christopher Combs, and I was the FBI Commander for the Austin Bombings.
Christopher Combs | FBI Special Agent in Charge: We’ve had serial bombers in this country … but we’ve never had a situation where we had an active bomber setting off this number of explosive devices in this short a period of time.
Jordana Nesvog | FBI Operations Specialist: Leads are coming in. Information is flying all sorts of directions … we’re just trying to … identify the bomber
Christopher Combs: The Austin bombing was a very unique experience … which is why the FBI brought in 600 personnel. … we knew … From Austin police to FBI to ATF, and the hundred other agencies that were here, if we don’t stop this, it’s going to continue indefinitely … and how many people could die?
MARCH 2, 2018 | 6:55 A.M. | BOMB 1
CBS AUSTIN NEWS REPORT: Developing tonight: one man is dead after an explosion on his front porch.
Justin Wilson | FBI Special Agent: I was driving into work … and I noticed that it’s just about 7 a.m. And usually when the phone rings at 7 a.m., that’s not good.
CALLER: My next-door neighbor is down with his face down in blood everywhere
911 OPERATOR: Is he awake?
CALLER: No ma’am, not at all.
Justin Wilson: The victim was Anthony House. … he worked … construction amongst other things … his wife was a schoolteacher … went out of his door. … his routine was to smoke a cigarette. He sees the package, picks it up, the package detonated … his young daughter … heard him go outside, then she heard the bomb go off … She was a brave young lady and ran to the neighbors to get help … his body took the majority of that blast.
Michael Call: I remember the blood. I remember seeing components at the scene … we felt very comfortable it was a pipe bomb at this point because we had significant pieces of galvanized pipe.
Michael Call: There were components at the scene … that told us it was probably a device that functioned by victim initiation, meaning the device functions when someone opens a box … moves a box, pulls it off the ground.
Jordana Nesvog: As an analyst when I am on scene … I’m starting to build those pieces of the puzzle … every piece ofit contains information.
Justin Wilson: You start playing it out. Who could have possibly targeted this individual? Did he have any enemies? … the victimology of it. Who, who would want to do this to someone?
AN ACTIVE BOMBER
For three weeks in March 2018, a serial bomber terrorized Austin, Texas. The first explosion killed a 39-year-old father, Anthony Stephan House, as he picked up a package outside his front door.
Justin Wilson: Within the first 45 minutes … we’re able to determine the U.S. Postal Service did not deliver that package. FedEx didn’t deliver the package. UPS didn’t deliver the package. … Amazon didn’t deliver the package. … That tells us that it was placed by an individual. We knew that somebody had intentionally … placed the box there to … target that house.
Michael Call: What we found … was pieces of a mousetrap … We found power cells. AC Delco double A’s … so that was kind of unique to us to see an off brand of battery. … the next step the FBI is going to take, or any law enforcement agency is, “I need to find out who sells those batteries.”
Jordana Nesvog | FBI Operations Specialist: Every part of that bomb contains information about the bomber … since I’m on the Evidence Response Team, I was going to that scene as an evidence collector.
Christopher Combs: Jordana has an incredible ability to focus and focus on minutia to get to that needle in a haystack.
Jordana Nesvog: I’m just logging that information for future use. Perhaps that doesn’t make sense now, but I know that it will come into play later.
Christopher Combs: It’s hard to tell, the first bombing, it’s a serial bomber, just like it’s hard to tell a serial murderer starts with the first one.
Justin Wilson: I opened up a case, worked it alongside with APD homicide and with ATF.
Daniel Mueller: My name is Daniel Mueller, I’m a Special Agent with the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Daniel Mueller: … we soon discovered that the Austin Police Department Narcotics had executed a search warrant four doors up from the bombing location. … we thought it might be a case of mistaken identity and that they put the bomb on the porch of the wrong house.
Justin Wilson: … then on March 12th, around the same time in the morning, I get another phone call.
MARCH 12, 2018 | 6:44 A.M. | BOMB 2
SANDRA YOUNG JONES: Oh, I need a EMS please something exploded in the house, and my grandson is bleeding everywhere.
911 OPERATOR: What exactly happened that caused this?
SANDRA YOUNG JONES: They opened a package from outside and it exploded in the house.
Daniel Mueller | ATF Special Agent: On March 12th, 2018,went to his front porch. He was going to his car to go work out with his mother. He saw a box on the front porch, and he brought it inside.
Michael Call: … and when the box was opened, the device detonated.
Daniel Mueller: It killed Draylen Mason, a 17-year-old, extremely bright young man and severely injured his mother.
Justin Wilson: It breaks your heart. This kid had everything going for him.
Justin Wilson: He was a musical prodigy … He had scholarship opportunities … he was an outstanding young man. … who would want to target this kid?
Michael Call: Immediately we thought, “Oh, my gosh, we have two now like this in the same town within 10 days.” That’s rare. That’s very rare.
AUSTIN POLICE CHIEF BRIAN MANLEY [to reporters, March 12, 2018]: Good afternoon. My name’s Brian Manley. I’m the chief of police here in Austin, Texas. … we are not going to tolerate this in Austin, and you have seen every stop will be pulled out and the federal agencies have all jumped in with us …
Michael Call: We could assess that device two and device one were very similar … You’re looking at a pipe bomb again. You’re looking at a device that’s designed to function by the opening of a box. … we are thinking … probably the same person or same group of people.
Jordana Nesvog: Arriving at that house in that quiet little community, I just felt that … sense of disbelief … that something, something more was going on here in Austin. … we have a killer … and this can’t happen again.
CHIEF BRIAN MANLEY | [to reporters, March 12, 2018]: … both of the homes that were the recipients of these packages belonged to African Americans, so we cannot rule out that hate crime is at the core of this, but we’re not saying that that’s the cause as well.
Michael Call: We are assessing the scene, trying to develop a strategy to collect the evidence.
MARCH 12, 2018 | 11:50 AM | BOMB 3
Michael Call: The Austin P.D. bomb squad commander says, “Mike, we just had another device go off 5 miles away.”
Jordana Nesvog: I was speechless at that moment … Austin seemed to be under attack.
911 OPERATOR: Austin 911, do you need police? Fire?
CALLER: Hurry, hurry, there’s an emergency there was an explosion.
911 OPERATOR: Tell me exactly what happened
CALLER: We don’t know. We heard an explosion. And my neighbors are outside on the ground.
Michael Call: I don’t think any of us were ready for that to occur while we’re still working device two to have another one go off as we’re on the scene. I wasn’t ready for it mentally, it shocked us.
Justin Wilson: Inside … I’m saying … “we’re under siege.”
Michael Call: After 10 days. Three bombings. Things are about to get a lot … busier for us and a lot worse.
A SERIAL BOMBER?
Christopher Combs: March 12th is when things really changed for the FBI … when that second bomb went off, it was readily apparent to us that we had a problem … and whenoccurred, obviously we’re in a serial bomber situation.
FIRST RESPONDER: What’s going on guys?
FIRST RESPONDER: Hey guys back away. Back away.
DISPATCH AUDIO: I got elderly female with injuries …
DISPATCH AUDIO: She picked up a brown box and it exploded.
CHIEF MANLEY [to reporters]: The victim in this incident came outside … and found a package out front. … she is a 75-year-old Hispanic female … and her injuries are considered life threatening at this time
The victim was Esperanza Herrera, an Austin native and great grandmother of eight.
Justin Wilson: Firefighters and the EMS personnel, honestly, were afraid she would not make it. The extent of her injuries were so severe.
Michael Call: When you see somebody injured like that, especially as a result of criminal activity, violent activity, it’s tough to see.
Jordana Nesvog: The job in the moment was to go to that trauma room and collect evidence that was coming in with the third victim … looking at the carnage of a trauma room when a victim has been brought in … is – it’s heartbreaking, honestly.
Esperanza Herrera: I’m not even supposed to be here ’cause I thought I was going to die.
Esperanza Herrera [outside of the home, showing where she picked up the package]: I walked up to the box … I stooped down, and I picked up the box. … When it got to right here … it exploded.
Esperanza Herrera [pointing to scar on cheek]: I had a nail it had gone through. … my stomach split open … And then, then of course, my arm … lost my finger.
Justin Wilson: … that scene was very different than the other two. … the bomb that killed Anthony House. … it was in the, the entry to the foyer of the house, the way it blast it was fairly contained … the bomb that [killed] Draylen was contained within the house. …The bomb that injured Esperanza Herrera … the debris field was massive and we’re picking up shrapnel off of rooftops, well over 200 feet away.
Michael Call: Pipe bomb again. Victim initiation again. However, there was a key difference.
The first two bombs used steel galvanized pipe to house the explosive material. But at the scene of the third bombing, investigators were surprised to also find fragments of a common plumbing pipe made from white plastic PVC.
Michael Call: You can design a pipe bomb within a PVC pipe. You can also design a pipe bomb inside of steel galvanized pipe … you don’t need both. … It doesn’t make much sense to us.
Justin Wilson: With each piece of evidence … you’re hoping to help identify who this bomber may be. And through each crime scene we’re able to find certain components that were common amongst all three devices.
Michael Call: After three devices going off in 10 days … we’re trying to leverage our resources to figure out what we need to do to get on top of this before it gets worse.
Daniel Mueller: It was quite demoralizing thinking that someone is destroying my city … we’re being attacked.
CBS AUSTIN NEWS REPORT: … and a lot of anxiety now, right now South by Southwest is underway in Austin with hundreds of thousands of visitors in town.
Christopher Combs: We were concerned that the people of Austin were starting to get nervous, were starting to live in fear, because the bombs kept going off.
CHRISTOPHER COMBS [to reporters]: Good afternoon everyone. We want the people of Austin to know that the full resources of the FBI is being brought to bear to help on this.
Christopher Combs: … we brought in over 600 FBI people to stop the bombings … At one point, frankly, there was an FBI plane flying from Washington to California that was redirected while it was over the Midwest to come here to help us.
CHRISTOPHER COMBS [to reporters]: We’ve had three devices explode, so whether that’s a hate crime, or terrorism, or organized crime is somewhat insignificant. What’s significant is the effort to find who’s making these devices to make sure that there’s not a fourth or fifth device.
A central command post was created where the FBI, ATF, Austin Police and other agencies combined their investigations. They operated around the clock.
Christopher Combs: We determined we were going to work this as a partnership … I like to defer to the local police chief, it’s his town … so we certainly used Brian Manley as the face of this investigation.
CHIEF BRIAN MANLEY [to reporters, March 13, 2018]: We have lost two lives in this community and we have an additional two that have been forever changed.
Christopher Combs: … it’s his city and his people were getting killed. And then we stand behind him and supported in every way possible.
Justin Wilson: At this point we’re working our average is 18 to 20 hours of work … fatigue sets in … cognitive overload sets in.
Jordana Nesvog: When everybody’s tired and when everything’s frustrating and when bombs are going off … sometimes it’s the simple things that are going to break the case wide open.
Justin Wilson: Three times a day, Jordana, I told her … I said, “you pull me aside, we’re shutting a door, we’re getting into a quiet area and you give me a brain dump on what I need to know.”
Michael Call: At this point they had some suspects they were looking at.
Justin Wilson: … based on purchases, based on their work histories, their backgrounds and the component purchases, we had identified two folks that we’ve felt fairly solid on. We’ve set up to where they were under constant surveillance for 24 hours a day.
Christopher Combs: We weren’t really sure we were on the right track. So, we wanted to speak to the bomber to find out why he was doing this.
CHIEF MANLEY [to reporters]: We hope this person or persons is watching and will reach out to us before anyone else is injured or anyone else is killed out of this event.
Christopher Combs: The FBI’s behavior analysis worked with the chief to try to come up with some language that we felt would interest the bomber.
CHIEF MANLEY [to reporters]: These events in Austin have garnered worldwide attention and we assure you that we are listening.
Christopher Combs: We literally were concerned that any moment another bomb would go off.
MARCH 18, 2018 | 8:32 p.m. | BOMB 4
CBS AUSTIN BREAKING NEWS REPORT: … we are still following new details tonight in a bombing attack in southwest Austin.
POLICE BODY CAM AT SCENE: “We have a confirmed shrapnel” … “Hey, grab me a piece of tape right here.” … “It’s a trip wire!” … “This is the kind of stuff I’ve seen in Iraq. … Tell EMS to stop right there!”
Michael Call: We’ve got three functioning IEDs that kill people in the city of Austin. And now he’s stepped up his game to a booby trap, changes things for us immensely.
Christopher Combs: The night of that, it was like a war zone. … my greatest concern was if you’ve escalated to the point of trip wires, what’s the next escalation … how are we gonna get in front of this?
THE TRIP WIRE
CBS AUSTIN BREAKING NEWS MARCH 19, 2018: … we are still following new details tonight in a bombing attack in southwest Austin.
Daniel Mueller | ATF Special Agent: On the trip wire bomb, there’s two young men in their 20s walking down the sidewalk. One of them touched the trip wire. The bomb exploded and metal shrapnel immediately went into their lower extremities.
Until now, the FBI believed the first three bombs were targeted attacks placed in east Austin at the homes of African American and Hispanic families. But bomb number four was different. It was in southwest Austin. The survivors were young white men, and this bomb was triggered by a trip wire on the sidewalk.
Justin Wilson | FBI Special Agent: The trip wire was going to be indiscriminate … anyone walking past and tripping that device was going to be your victim … he didn’t care who he targeted. He just wanted to hurt people.
Daniel Mueller: … the trip wire bomb … told us something else about the investigation … we got a very finite window of when we knew that trip wire bomb was planted and we had those two persons of interest under surveillance and we knew that they had not planted the bomb.
Daniel Mueller: We had to start from zero again.
Christopher Combs | FBI Commander: It’s demoralizing when we’re not making headway on our investigation … we find needles in haystacks, that’s what we do. And when you get to four bombings and you literally don’t have a needle in a haystack, that can we really discouraging.
Michael Call | FBI Special Agent bomb technician: On March 18th approaching that trip wire scene, number one it’s dark … we can’t see anything and now we’re responding to a booby trap in a neighborhood that was part of a functioning IED … we don’t get to make a mistake. One mistake and that’s it.
With the possibility of other bombs hidden in the area, the FBI decided to wait until daylight to search the crime scene for clues.
Michael Call: You can still see to this day there’s a pretty significant piece of fence missing. That was a pretty good size of pipe that was propelled from the detonation through the fence.
Michael Call: He took monofilament line, fishing line, and stretched it across [the sidewalk] from the device, to an eyebolt, a steel eyebolt which he pushed into the ground right about here. That monofilament line, that fishing line, was about 2 inches off the ground, roughly which enables it to be relatively hidden. Someone walks down the sidewalk, they’re gonna trip that fishing line, initiate the device and cause it to detonate.
The bomb was hidden under a red safety sign. It read: “Drive like your kids live here.”
Michael Call: It’s kind of like a big “screw you” to the neighborhood … because he could have found something else to disguise that device under … that’s tough to deal with, cause you think of your own kids and you think of the kids in the neighborhood here you know, they’re innocent.
But the mangled sign would become a crucial piece of evidence.
Justin Wilson: It’s terrifying … however, luckily by him changing his MO, it gave us the break we’d been needing … the … number on it was able to be utilized to help figure out who sells that specific sign.
Jordana Nesvog | FBI Operations Specialist: Investigators … were able to identify a point of sale in the Austin area just days before. … on a day that I would have been outside working on scene number three, the bomber was inside a store buying supplies to make bomb number four.
This image gave the FBI its first look at the bomber. Now they just needed a name. As momentum was finally turning their way, something happened that stopped them in their tracks … again.
Michael Call: We were just coming off scene four, so we had stayed up all night … I remember laying down … and my phone goes off — and it’s the bomb squad from San Antonio.
MARCH 20, 2018 | 12:45 A.M. | BOMB 5
GAYLE KING | “CBS THIS MORNING”: We begin with breaking news — a new package explosion overnight in Texas.
The fifth bomb exploded on a conveyer belt at a FedEx distribution center, more than an hour from Austin. No one was hurt.
Justin Wilson: Our concern heightened incredibly.
EMS DISPATCH: There were nails and metals in the bomb. Package was going to Austin.
Justin Wilson: The bomber not only changed his MO with a trip wire, now he’s shipping bombs.
Michael Call: Getting inside we were blown away by the size of the scene. … we have a building with 35,000 packages in it. And are any of those devices? … how many more has he put in the mail? … I remember we just kind of stood there for a minute, thought, “Oh my gosh, what are we gonna do?”
Investigators identified the tracking number from the exploded device. They discovered the bomb was shipped with another package from a FedEx store back in Austin. The question now was, where was that second package and did it contain a deadly bomb?
Michael Call: I called the FedEx in Austin and talked to the manager and said, “we are looking for a certain box.” … and he said, “We have that box. It is on the dock for outbound delivery today.”
The Austin Police bomb squad raced to the FedEx distribution center near the airport in Austin.
Michael Call: I was sent a photo of it from the bomb squad … they took some very detailed X-rays … so, it was two pipes, PVC on the outside, steel galvanized pipe on the inside.
It was the same type of bomb that injured Esperanza Herrera. By using steel galvanized and PVC pipes the device would be even more deadly, causing maximum damage. But it wasn’t just what was inside the package that intrigued investigators.
Michael Call: The return address was Kelly Killmore, which was kind of a play on words for kill more people.
Justin Wilson: The addresses that he was shipping to, one was a church and a pastor. One was a day spa.
Michael Call: That person doesn’t even know and will never know that they have a package that was destined for their house … kind of steeled our resolve … and now we’re gonna get this guy.
Justin Wilson: First thing in the morning, investigators were able to go to the FedEx location that he shipped from and interviewed the clerk there.
Justin Wilson: They were able to pull the video tape. The bomber wore a disguise when he walked into the FedEx facility … to ship the bombs … he wore red palmed utility gloves … he was wearing a blonde wig, a cap, multiple shirts.
Jordana Nesvog: We were able to see pretty much how tall he is. The witness described him as a young white male with a bad complexion.
Jordana Nesvog: Investigators were able to pull an image of the red truck that he had ultimately gotten into when he had left that location.
Justin Wilson: Around the same time, Home Depot video was coming back to us from their exterior cameras … where he purchased the “Drive like your kids live here” sign, picking up the red Ford Ranger in the parking lot there.
Jordana Nesvog: I immediately start feeling that energy like “OK, we’re gonna get momentum here.”
For nearly three weeks, investigators had been pouring through purchase records from stores across Austin trying to pinpoint who may have bought the components for the bombs. As details of that red truck crossed Jordana’s desk, something finally clicked.
Jordana Nesvog: Looking at a vehicle record that says that this individual owns a Ford Ranger that’s red in color … it was a 2002 and he lives in the Austin area. I just immediately felt that goose bump. … “I got him … I got him.”
THE NEEDLE IN THE HAYSTACK
NEWS REPORTS: On Tuesday night, the Texas state capital was rocked by yet another explosion … federal law enforcement agents are now in Austin assisting local police in their search for the serial bomber.
Explosions in Texas’ state capital this month have killed two people and injured four others.
On March 20, 2018, nearly three weeks after the first bomb exploded, investigators finally had a name for the Austin serial bomber.
Jordana Nesvog: … they had obtained actual footage of the individual that had purchased this yard sign that was used in bomb number four. And they brought that photo into that little room where I was sitting and held it up against the driver’s license photo that I still had on my laptop. And it was a perfect match.
Justin Wilson: He was a white male, 23 years old, dark hair.
. His name matched a sales receipt from an electronics store where some of the bomb components were purchased. He was from the Austin area and owned a red Ford Ranger just like the one seen in those surveillance videos.
Jordana Nesvog: I remember when I shared that information with Justin … he didn’t hesitate. … Justin and … our SAC Christopher Combs just immediately started shifting resources, figuring out what was going to be in the next game plan.
Christopher Combs: When I saw that picture, it didn’t pop in my mind that that’s a mad bomber … there was no FBI record, there was no Austin Police record. … if Jordana tells me she found him, I have full confidence that Jordana is right. And when she presented her case to us, it all came together.
With that positive ID, investigators tracked down multiple images of Conditt preparing for the bombings: like driving to Home Depot for the red sign used with the tripwire and buying PVC pipe for bomb number three.
Jordana Nesvog: Now that we had somebody that we could focus on, all of those 600 investigators … now they could be all be focused on one individual, and that that was going to be a win for us.
Christopher Combs: It was on the early evening of the 20th … We identified where he lived … So, we put multiple surveillance teams on that house. We had planes up above circling that house.
Justin Wilson: When the aerial units got there, they identified the red Ford Ranger still had the same stuff in the back that was identified on the camera footage.
Christopher Combs: The order was to make sure nobody leaves that house. We didn’t want the bomber to leave and plant another device, but we weren’t sure that he was actually there.
Conditt didn’t have a social media presence, his cell phone wasn’t sending off any signals the FBI could track, and investigators learned he sometimes drove another vehicle besides that red Ford Ranger.
Justin Wilson: … it was determined that we’ll continue looking for the bomber, continue pinging the phones and try to locate him. But at the next morning we’re going to execute the arrest warrant search warrant on the house regardless.
Christopher Combs: The crimes happened in Austin. The Austin city has been terrorized. People that died were Austin city residents. So, I felt the right thing to do was the Austin SWAT team should affect that entry.
Lt. Katrina Pruitt: My name is Katrina Pruitt. I’m the lieutenant over the Austin Police Department’s SWAT team.
Lt. Katrina Pruitt | Austin Police Department SWAT: My guys train all the time. They know how to put together a plan and execute it and do it safely.
Senior Officer Robert Justesen: My name is Robert Justesen. I’m a team leader with the Austin Police Department SWAT team.
Senior Officer Robert Justesen | Austin Police Department SWAT: The decision was made that seven of us were going to stay in a van up in that area where the suspect’s residence is … And at 7 a.m. we would … execute the search warrant on his residence.
Jordana Nesvog: … going home the night of the 20th, I remember having a phone call with my parents that was tough [emotional]. I felt that responsibility that like it was out of my control, but something that I had done … Was going to come to sort of resolution the next day, and I didn’t, I didn’t have any control over that, but I felt really responsible for it
Justin Wilson: I go home … lay down in bed trying to decompress a little bit knowing that only have a few hours before its go time again.
Back at the command post, ATF Special Agent Daniel Mueller worked into the night keeping watch for any sign of the bomber. Then, shortly after 1 a.m., Mark Anthony Conditt switched on his cell phone.
Daniel Mueller: We pinged his phone and found out where he was.
Investigators swarmed a hotel parking lot on the outskirts of Austin. An aerial unit found Conditt sitting in a car with the engine running.
Justin Wilson: The phone rings … and it’s one of our other agents … and his words were “Justin, we got him.” … I said, “where?” And he told me the address … I said, “that’s a mile-and-a-half from my house.” … I jump up out of bed, get on my body armor, get on my gear and head out.
Christopher Combs: Right away the order was we cannot lose this guy … but if he starts to move, we have to take him down.
Justin Wilson: It was a surreal feeling … I’m sitting there, I probably sat there almost 20 minutes watching him …I just got this gut feeling, I said, “he’s making his final plans. This isn’t going to end well.”
Katrina Pruitt: Originally the plan was to move the armored vehicles into place … and block his exit … unfortunately he started moving … before the armored vehicles got there.
DPS HELICOPTER AUDIO: Air to ground, he’s on the move, backing out now.
Robert Justesen: We loaded into the two vans really quickly … again 90 seconds to come up with a plan on how we were going to execute it.
DPS HELICOPTER AUDIO: It’s gonna be taking a right, southbound on 35 Frontage.
Robert Justesen: We all swore, if needed, to give our lives for the city. And I think on that night we proved that it wasn’t just words, it was something we were willing to do.
TAKING DOWN THE BOMBER
Robert Justesen: We got notified … by the surveillance team that the suspect was pulling out of the parking lot. I … told the guys to load up into the vans, we’re going to do a vehicle assault.
DPS HELICOPTER VIDEO: I got him eastbound, wall lane, coming up to 35 Frontage.
Robert Justesen [watching video]: You can see our van right behind him.
DPS HELICOPTER VIDEO: Gonna be taking a right turn, southbound on 35 Frontage.
DPS HELICOPTER VIDEO: We’re at 35 Frontage and old settlers and he’s stopped right now.
Robert Justesen: … we stopped at a red light. And the suspect is the number one vehicle at the red light followed by my van and then the other van … my sergeant is still on the phone with her letting her know “Hey, the suspect went mobile, we’re going to have to do the vehicle assault.”
Lt. Katrina Pruitt: I told him, “go, just don’t let him get on the interstate…”
DPS HELICOPTER VIDEO: All right, we’re through the intersection, southbound still on Frontage.
Robert Justesen: I communicated with the other van … let them know, “hey, we need to do this now.” Instructed them to get in front of him and then try to get him to stop.
DPS HELICOPTER VIDEO: All right, the van’s made contact with him, van’s made contact with him.
Robert Justesen: I was the first one out … I moved up to the front passenger window … using the barrel of my rifle, I breached the window … that’s when he detonated the device inside.
DPS HELICOPTER VIDEO: Got an explosion, got an e.
AUSTIN SWAT RADIO FREQUENCY: “he detonated an explosive” …” back off! Back off!” … “Backin off the vehicle…” [pause]
Lt. Katrina Pruitt: I hear them say on the radio that an explosion has occurred … the sinking feeling of how quiet the radio was and not knowing what had happened or if anybody was injured seemed like forever.
Robert Justesen: Initially, I thought he was just shooting at us, but the force had knocked me back … the other officer fired one round … I step back up, determined that the suspect’s deceased, there’s nobody else. And then we back away from the vehicle.
Robert Justesen: I had some small scratches from the broken glass, but nothing serious, nothing that didn’t heal in a day or so.
Justin Wilson: … there was exhaustion, there was fatigue, but there was also that, that you’re like, he’s finally stopped and that was a huge pressure off of you.
Michael Call: … you don’t celebrate a death, but in this case, you celebrate the fact that he stopped one way or another and no one else is gonna get hurt.
Christopher Combs: We found the bomber, and that’s great, but this isn’t over. We don’t know, did he put out other devices?
Michael Call: Now we have the daunting task of searching his house … we found a significant amount of bomb-making material, we found switches, AC Delco double A batteries, just like the ones he had used in the prior bombings. We found the wig and gloves that the individual had worn … we found also about 100 pounds of improvised explosives. … that told us that he was probably planning some other activities, some significantly larger activities.
Justin Wilson: While he was sitting there in the car in the parking lot he was recording on a camera …
Christopher Combs: He made aas to what he did and describes each of the devices.
Justin Wilson: He self-identified as a sociopath. That’s his own words … his motivation was not ideological … he was just wanting a thrill and a very sick individual.
The bombings kept the city of Austin on edge for 20 days and took the lives of an innocent father and a 17-year-old student. The survivors, like Esperanza Herrera, are still trying to rebuild their lives.
Esperanza Herrera: A lot of my friends and families say that I am a miracle. And I think I am. … that God had gave me a second chance [emotional]. … you know, because I did want to be here for my children, my grandchildren. … I still have a long road. But I know that I’m going to be OK.
Jordana Nesvog: … those are the kind of stories that inspire me and help me know that the little that I can do is worth it. … try to make lives better. Try to take care of those in our society that are trying to hurt people. Anything that I can do — I feel called I feel the duty to do my best for them.
Justin Wilson: Jordana Nesvog is actually a true hero in my mind. Her diligence, her thoroughness and her attention to detail is what identified this bomber and what led us to actually being able to take him down.
Jordana Nesvog: It was hundreds of really good people … I love what I do and I’m grateful for the people I work with and ultimately people lost their lives on this one, so I can’t — I can’t take any of the credit.
Christopher Combs: We see things that people shouldn’t see, and we interact with citizens on their worst days imaginable.
Michael Call: The FBI will bring 20 people to a two-man fight. That’s the way we do things. So … if the FBI is going to target you and you’re doing something criminal, terrorist, we will not stop. period.
Christopher Combs: One of the proudest moments of my life was when we caught the Austin bomber and I saw the work that the 600 FBI agents and intelligence analysts and technical specialists had done to stop that man from killing more people here in Austin.