For residents of Pflugerville, the fear brought on by the spate of recent bombings will take some time to disappear, not least because their quiet suburb about 20 miles from downtown Austin has become the centre of a massive police operation.
Detectives and federal agents have flooded two streets connected to the serial bombing suspect Mark Anthony Conditt, one containing his home and the other his parents’.
One neighbour, Debbie Alexander, who has lived in the hamlet for nearly 20 years, happened upon today’s scene of black SUVs, ambulances and police officers on her morning walk.
“My mind is so nervous from the disbelief,” she told The Independent, adding that Pflugerville is a “friendly community” where her children attend the nearby public schools.
Conditt’s home is five miles from the site the first bomb detonated on 2 March, which killed 39-year-old Anthony Stephan House, and not much further from where Draylen Mason, just 17, was killed by another package bomb on 12 March. He is said to have lived with two roommates, who are both cooperating with officials.
“I’m ready to get my kids and go to my parents’ house… they don’t need to see this,” Ms Alexander said.
As a UPS truck passed by to make deliveries to the offices at the end of the street, Ms Alexander said she was still a bit nervous and “scared” because police had cautioned residents to be wary of packages and aware of their surroundings.
Lee Roca, a neighbour of Conditt’s, said he had seen the suspected serial bomber “more than a few times” at a neighbourhood bar called the Red Rooster on karaoke nights.
“Sometimes when I do my music I get 10 handshakes at the end” and it “could be” that he shook hands with Conditt at some point.
He said he was shocked after being shown Conditt’s picture; “[I said] ‘hey, I know this person from the bar’,” but he did not know exactly where he lived in the small home tucked away among a few low-rise offices just a 10 minute walk away.
Expressing relief that police had caught up to a suspect, Mr Roca said: “I was worried about the bombings, yes, very much… because it could happen anywhere. You drive over a box or something in the road and be exploded in a minute”.
Mr Roca said he would give it a few days before heading back to the bar because he is still a bit “nervous” about driving around town.
Starting the previous night, residents in the area said they could hear helicopters and what sounded like drones circling around the neighbourhood as police had narrowed down Conditt’s identity and were tracking his whereabouts.
He was eventually caught up to at a hotel approximately 13 miles away in Round Rock, Texas, where he died after detonating an explosive device in his car after police pulled him over.
Ms Alexander said she did not want to make judgements on Conditt’s behaviour but in the “over 10 times” she had seen him around, he seemed a bit “quiet” and almost “standoffish” but he did not worry her. She had never spoken with him but waved to say hello.
“I’ve never been in his house… but once I saw the garage door open and it looked like a bedroom to me,” she said about one of the occasions during which she had observed him.
Ms Alexander said that she agreed with Austin Mayor Steve Adler when he said that Austin and surrounding areas should get to know their neighbours better. “The world we live in, people are afraid… I would have never guessed in a million years that kid would have done that,” she said about Conditt, adding that “you can tell a lot about a person in two minutes” if there is some more communication between neighbours.
Conditt bought the home a few years ago with the help of his parents, Danene and Pat Conditt, who lived just a few miles away, also in Pflugerville. At his parent’s home, police were stationed outside on a sparsely populated street, with his parents having allowed investigators into their home.
An American flag fluttered in the wind on the modest cream and grey home, situated across from an open field. A neighbour, Jeff Reeb, told The Independent that he did not know Conditt well but “knows what he drives, knows when he visits his parents. His car is there for a couple of hours and then it’s gone.”
Mr Reeb was in “complete shock” when he heard that police had named Conditt, who grew up in the house right next door, as the suspect.
“He and and his family are as normal as I’ve seen anybody,” the neighbour of approximately 17 years said.
Conditt had been homeschooled by his grandmother, Mary Conditt. He created a blog about his political views as a requirement for a political science class he took at Austin Community College, according to McKenna McIntosh, his classmate. In an author description, he described himself as a Conservative. His posts include arguments against same-sex marriage and sex offender registries and a defence of the death penalty. He attended the community college from 2010 to 2012 but did not graduate.
Conditt’s grandmother said she was shocked to learn her grandson was being accused of the attacks, and called him a “very kind” and “loving person”. She told CNN that Mr Conditt was a “very quiet and a deep thinker”.
Conditt, accused of being involved with six bombs, five of which exploded. Texas congressman Michael McCaul told a local Austin television station that the suspect bought bomb-making equipment at a Home Depot in Pflugerville. It is the idea that there may be other explosives out there that has residents most on edge.
“I am still worried that the police don’t know if he had an accomplice or if there are other bombs that have been planted. I feel like it could be a landmine situation until the authorities can gauge how many devices he built. Hopefully tracking all of his purchases will help out,” Kevin Chin, a resident of Round Rock, Texas, where Conditt died, said.