PFLUGERVILLE — Neighbors in this little corner of Pflugerville, a 30-minute drive north of Austin, had the same reaction to finding out the suspected Austin serial bomber’s family lived around the corner.
“Well, I’ll be damned.”
The Conditt family home features a gray picket fence and an American flag. The neighborhood dates to the 1850s, when this small Austin suburb was settled, and is so quiet that the bark of a dog rips through the air like a car backfiring. There’s only one way in or out — every other street leads to a dead end.
And yet few here knew anything about the Mark Conditt, the 23-year-old suspected of terrorizing the capital city these last few weeks. Just one neighbor out of a half dozen even remembered the eldest Conditt son.
“They’re churchgoing people,” Jeff Reeb, 75, who lives next door, said Wednesday. Conditt moved out a few years ago but lived just down the road in a house where, at that moment, FBI agents and bomb squads amassed outside.
As for the young man’s family, Reeb said they were “extremely good neighbors. I like them a lot. I’d call them an extremely nice, good people, nice family.”
Diane Vail, who lives just behind the Conditts, said she was “shocked” to hear the family could have a connection to the bombings. She told The Dallas Morning News, “You know, they seem like very nice folks.”
Police identified Conditt as the suspected bomber Wednesday morning, after he died in an explosion while being pursued by law enforcement.
Within minutes, details of his life began trickling out, from his younger years as a homeschooled kid in Pflugerville to his community college days, when he railed against abortion and homosexuality. Conditt’s motives are still a mystery.
“Conditt’s viewpoints on gay marriage and abortion that are being unearthed would qualify as ‘rigid thinking’ ” that is typical of “spree killers,” Enzo Yaksic, co-director of the Atypical Homicide Research Group at Northeastern University, told The News. “It will be interesting to learn over the coming days just what it was that kept Conditt moving forward with his attacks.”
Conditt is accused of planting four explosive devices and mailing two through FedEx in the past three weeks, killing two, injuring four and casting a pall of fear and anxiety over the city of Austin.
Earlier Wednesday, law enforcement tracked Conditt’s car to a Round Rock-area motel. The suspect pulled over on the interstate’s frontage road, where he detonated a bomb in his car, killing himself and injuring one officer in the blast.
Federal authorities issued a warrant for Conditt’s arrest the night before his death, charging him with Unlawful Possession and Transfer of a Destructive Device. No fewer than a dozen local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, Texas Rangers and Austin Police Department worked together to hone in on the suspect.
Police cautioned the public to remain vigilant, as they are not sure if more bombs are still out there. Two of the bomber’s roommates were detained and questioned, but as of Wednesday afternoon neither had been arrested.
Conditt attended Austin Community College from 2010 to 2012 and left the college in good academic standing. He majored in business administration and took classes at both the Northridge and Round Rock campuses but did not graduate. He reportedly worked for Crux Semiconductor in Austin and repaired computers and also worked in a Round Rock gymnastics gym.
While attending ACC in 2012, he maintained a blog called “Defining My Stance” for a government class. In his bio, he said he viewed himself as a conservative, but didn’t think he had “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,” the bio read.
In a series of posts between February and May of 2012, Conditt criticized homosexuality as “not natural” and expounded on efforts to lessen internet piracy. He advocated for the death penalty and against sex-offender registries. In his second blog, dated Feb. 24, 2012, he mused on whether to release a captured al-Qaeda terrorist.
“I think that it is just plain dumb to release a terrorist,” Conditt wrote, “much less a senior one — no matter what.”
He also equated contraception to abortion, in a response post to another classmate’s argument that contraception should be free. Conditt wrote, “If you can’t provide for a child, then don’t have sex.”
The 23-year-old was the eldest Conditt child. He had two sisters — Christina, 21, a gymnast, and Sara, 18, who practiced martial arts — according to Facebook. Danene, his mother, posted a photo of him with a snowboard and another celebrating his graduation from high school in 2013. Her caption said he was considering going on a mission trip.
CNN received a statement from relatives of the suspect, who expressed shock at the news and asked for privacy.
“We are devastated and broken at the news that our family could be involved in such an awful way,” the statement read. “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.”
Yaksic, the criminal profiler from Northeastern University, said early comparisons to the Unabomber were misleading and gave Conditt “far more credit than he deserves.”
His varied and sophisticated tactics led some to believe he would be older, Yaksic said, because younger perpetrators may not be experienced enough to build bombs and sustain the motivation to do so. He had guessed the serial bomber would be 45 to 55 years old and less likely to act impulsively.
“Conditt was undone by the electronic footprints he left behind which some might say was his way of letting law enforcement know that he wanted to get caught,” Yaksic said. “But a series of offenses like these can spiral out of the killer’s control.”