AUSTIN — The primary suspect in a string of terrorist-style bombings died in his pickup truck on March 21.
Mark Anthony Conditt, 23, of Pflugerville, detonated explosive devices in his truck on an Interstate 35 access road in Round Rock as two law enforcement officers approached the vehicle on foot. One officer was injured in the explosion. The other officer reportedly fired a rifle at the suspect.
Intensive search and surveillance operations began on March 2, when a bomb later traced to Conditt exploded and killed an Austin man who picked up what appeared to be a normal package delivered to his residence. Similar packages exploded in the Austin area on March 12, one killing a teen and injuring his mother, and another injuring a 75-year-old woman. On March 18, two men were injured by a tripwire-triggered improvised explosive device in Austin.
On March 19, two days before Conditt was tracked down, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the release of $265,500 in emergency funding for the Austin Police Department and the Texas Ranger Bomb Response Team to purchase seven portable x-ray systems for use in bomb detection and responding to suspicious package investigations.
Abbott said his office has provided nearly $1 million over the last two years to enhance the capabilities of the Austin police department’s bomb squad. He said the grants provided for purchases of bomb disposal robots, robotic arms and bomb suits that allow technicians to approach potentially explosive devices and render them harmless.
On March 20, the day before Conditt’s death, the Texas Department of Public Safety reminded Texans to remain vigilant and to report any suspicious activity or suspicious packages to authorities. The DPS stressed that Texans should not approach any unknown or suspicious packages or items, to keep a safe distance and then to notify the authorities by calling 911.
Big crowd joins march
An estimated 20,000 people participated in the Austin “March for Our Lives” event on March 24.
Similar marches were held some 900 cities around the globe. At the main march, in Washington, D.C., participants memorialized the mass shooting at high school in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, and other mass shootings, such as the ones at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut in 2010, and Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017.
Marchers and speakers at these events mainly called for an end to mass shootings through federal, state and local gun law reforms.
Jobs added in February
The Texas Workforce Commission on March 23 announced that the Lone Star State's economy added 40,500 seasonally adjusted non-farm jobs in February, marking 20 consecutive months of employment growth.
Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained unchanged at 4.0 percent in February and remains below the U.S. unemployment rate of 4.1 percent.
Industries noted for adding jobs in February included professional and business services, 13,200 positions; followed by trade, transportation and utilities, 11,800 jobs; and mining and logging, 6,500 positions.
TxDOT: Buckle up, teens
The Texas Department of Transportation on March 19 posted a message urging teen-agers to “always buckle up.”
The message is part of TxDOT’s annual “Teen Click It or Ticket” campaign, conducted in partnership with high school students, to urge young drivers and their passengers to wear their seat belts every time they’re in a vehicle.
“In Texas, 42 percent of all teenagers killed in traffic crashes in 2016 weren’t buckled up,” said TxDOT Executive Director James Bass. “We know seat belts save lives, but only if motorists use them. We want to make sure this message gets through to teens, and no one knows how to reach teens better than other teens.”
According to statistics compiled by TxDOT, in Texas in 2016, one in five vehicle crashes involved a teen driver. Of the 269 teen drivers and passengers killed in crashes that year, 114 were unbuckled.
AG asks program review
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on March 22 sent a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asking him to reverse the Obama administration’s exclusion of Texas from programs that provide family planning and related preventive health services to low-income women across the state.
Paxton wrote that in 2013 the Obama administration removed Texas from the eligible list of Title X program recipients because it refused to provide taxpayer funds to abortion providers.
“A precursor to participation in federal programs should not be an uncompromising commitment to abortion providers. The freedom of conscience should never be demoted to second-class status among our civil liberties,” Paxton added.
Ed Sterling is director of member services for the Texas Press Association.