When he looks back at what the Austin bomber “did to our community, he was a domestic terrorist for what he did to us,” interim Austin police Chief Brian Manley said Thursday at a panel discussion that focused on how police, the media and the community responded to the bombings.
“This is a distinction I wanted to make today,” Manley said. Knowing the case would be in the legal system at some point, he said, he was trying to be sensitive about the terminology he used during the investigation.
“I was so focused that we put a stop to it,” the chief said, but now he says he comfortable calling the bombings domestic terrorism “for what it did to our community.”
The discussion came after the bombings, which occurred in the city from March 2 to March 20. Police said Pflugerville resident Mark Conditt planted or mailed a series of package bombs that killed two and wounded five others.
The nephew of Esperanza Herrera, a 75-year-old woman critically injured by a package bomb March 12, was one of about 100 people who attended the discussion hosted by KUT-FM at the George Washington Carver Museum in East Austin.
Zeke Prado said that while the city has banded together, he is not happy with how the bomber was initially characterized.
"He terrorized the city of Austin," Prado said.
The panel also explored the apparent racial tensions that some community leaders said were exposed by the bombings and the investigation. The first three victims were black or Hispanic, leading some neighbors to worry that the attacks were racially motivated.
Austin Justice Coalition leader Chas Moore said a different standard had been applied to Conditt, who was white.
“The way the media covered this story, this 'troubled young man.' Was the young man troubled? Absolutely. But he was a troubled young man that turned out to be a terrorist,” Moore said.
“Because he was white, we gave him the benefit of being a human first.”
He also told the audience that it was a "myth" that Austin is a “big, beautiful diverse pie.”
“Our white brothers and sisters are going to have to learn how to be comfortable while being uncomfortable talking about race,” Moore said.
Police initially said they could not rule out that the attacks were racially or ethnically motivated. When Conditt switched tactics and planted his fourth bomb in Southwest Austin, wounding two white men, that theory appeared to fall apart.
A recorded “confession” left by Conditt later revealed his motivations were neither racial or political, Manley said.
Still, the attacks prompted several community meetings in East Austin and a series of op-ed columns focusing on what it’s like to be a minority in Austin and criticism over why the bombings weren’t classified as terrorism.
The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.