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Austin Police Update After Fourth Explosion Rocks City; Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 19, 2018 - 11:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I didn't think it was possible for somebody to be behind me.


BERMAN: Andy Scholes, thank you very much. I appreciate you being here and for that. All right. I'm John Berman. Thanks so much for watching. "AT THIS HOUR" starts now.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Dana Bash in for Kate Bolduan. And we're starting with breaking news, at any minute now, we're expecting an update from police in Austin, Texas. A city rocked by yet another explosion, the fourth in less than a month.

Authorities are telling people this morning not to leave their homes while they sleep the neighborhood where the explosion happened. Two men were injured in the latest blast but are expected to recover. This time police are saying the bomb might have been set off by a trip wire.

Want to go straight to CNN's Ed Lavandera who is in Austin. Ed, what are you hearing from your sources down there about the latest on the investigation? Whether or not authorities have any more clues as to who is behind this latest bombing and whether they're connected.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is what investigators are trying to figure out right now. They have just sent a team of about 100 ATF and FBI agents combing through this neighborhood after the sun came up here this morning. We're expecting here in a short while to hear from the lead FBI agent and the lead ATF agent as well as the police chief here in Austin. We are awaiting that press conference.

They're still trying to determine the, the last we heard from them is we had no indication of a suspect or any kind of motive in this attack. This particular attack that happened on Sunday night, very different from the three previous ones.

The first three happened in the eastern edge of the city, and the victims were black and Hispanic. That led authorities to say that they weren't willing to rule out the possibility that this could be some sort of hate crime.

But that we have learned that the two victims that were injured and wounded in the attack last night are two young white males in their early 20s. So, how all of this now plays into this scenario is still very much up in the air.

And also complicating here, matters, making this even far more disturbing and intriguing is that there was a trip wire believed to have been used in this latest explosion.

All of this, even more bizarre considering that Austin police just a few hours before this Sunday night attack were issuing a plea, speaking directly to the person or persons responsible for these attacks, saying they believe there is some sort of message that these perpetrators were trying to execute.

And they were trying to get some information for them, trying to open up a line of communication with these authorities -- with these people, trying to determine if they could strike up a conversation with them to kind of understand their motive.

Obviously, that did not happen. And just a few hours later, this fourth explosion was triggered here in the southwest part of Austin. You can see over here on my shoulder, you have the FBI agent and the ATF agent as well as the police chief here in Austin starting to make their way here toward the podium where a wall of cameras and reporters are waiting to hear from them.

As I mentioned, Dana, many of the officers weren't able to get into this crime scene throughout the night, give than it was dark, and they had the use of a trip wire. They were hesitant to speak about the situation or to get into the situation. We're going to turn it over to them now, so we can listen to what they have to say and for the latest updates here.

CHIEF BRIAN MANLEY, AUSTIN, TEXAS POLICE: Thank you, all, for coming out. Want to give you an update of where we're at on the investigation of the explosion that took place in this neighborhood last night. Again, I'm Brian Manley, chief of police of the Austin Police Department, Fred Milanowski, the special agent in charge for the ATF, and Christopher Combs, special agent in charge of the FBI, and Troy Gay, assistant chief of the Austin Police Department.

Again, we're here for an incident that began last night at approximately 8:32 when we had an explosion take place in the neighborhood behind us. That explosion injured two people that were walking along the side of the road.

Those individuals are currently in a local hospital. They are a 22 and 23-year-old males, both Anglo males. They are both in the hospital right now. They are in stable condition, but they did receive significant injuries from the explosion that took place.

Where we are right now, we have made the scene safe this morning, as you all know we held the scene last night given that it was dark and given that we believe that a trip wire may have been in effect on this device.

Given the safety concerns that gave us for not only this neighborhood but for all of the public safety professionals that are here working this, we held the scene overnight so that we could process it in daylight in a much safer way.

[11:05:05] What we have been able to do this morning is do another sweep of the entire area so that we know that the area is now safe, and we now have the specialist from ATF and FBI conducting the post- blast investigation behind us.

We have additional resources being brought to bear in Austin to continue assisting us in this ongoing investigation. We have bomb technicians from both the San Antonio Police Department as well as the Houston Police Department en route, and the Texas Department of Public Safety is assisting us as well, bringing in additional resources.

There has already been a significant presence from our federal partners since these events began and as we reported yesterday, we have over 500 agents and their teams working on Austin cases alone and we have additional resources being brought in by both of those agencies.

And as has already been broadcast, there is a $100,000 reward out there for someone who can give us a tip leading to the identification of the suspect or suspects in this incident along with another $15,000 reward that has been put out by the governor's office for the same.

We would like to reach out to those that live in the Travis Country neighborhood behind us. If you have video surveillance on your house, whether it be surveillance cameras, nest cameras, anything like that, we want to get your video footage so that we can have that analyzed and identify any potential suspicious persons, vehicles, or anything that may be of interest to this investigation.

So, again, if you live in Travis Country, and you have video surveillance on your home, please contact us at 512-974-5210 so we can get in there quickly and get that video. This neighborhood is still being locked down right now for safety.

And we expect it to be so until approximately 2:00 p.m. today, but we will update that as necessary throughout the day. Again, we're doing this in an overabundance of caution so that we can keep this neighborhood safe while we process the scene.

There is still a significant amount of evidence as you can imagine with the blast scene like this. The evidence is strewn across quite a significant distance and will take us a while to methodically go through and collect this evidence so that we make sure we get it right.

What I can tell you is based on the preliminary review we have done at this time, we have seen similarities in the device that exploded here last night and the other three devices that have exploded in Austin starting on March 2nd.

Again, this is preliminary information, but we have seen similarities. The big difference in this device, again, is we believe a trip wire was used in this device. Agent Milanowski will talk a little while and go over trip wires and what all that entails.

So, that will be covered in depth here in a few minutes. What we want to reinforce is the safety message that we have been putting out to this community for quite some time. And we obviously updated that a little bit.

In the past, we have been talking about the importance of not touching suspicious packages, not moving packages, not handling packages. The belief that we are now dealing with someone who is using trip wires shows a higher level of sophistication, higher level of skill.

And so, now what we are imploring the community to do, if you see any suspicious object or item that looks out of place, do not even approach it, but instead call 911 and report that to the police department so we can send folks out to check that and ensure that it is safe.

So, again, do not approach these suspicious items, anything you may see, whether it be a bag, a backpack, a box, and, again, this is why we have avoided giving specific descriptions of the prior three devices because it was never confirmed that that would be the design that this suspect or suspects would stick with.

So, that's the important message today to this community is make sure that you are safe and make sure you contact us if you see something that looks suspicious or that looks out of place.

Again, we want to ensure the safety of this neighborhood and we want to make sure that we're doing everything we can as we work through this investigation to do so. With that, I'm going to ask agent -- Special Agent Milanowski to talk a little bit about trip wires.

FREDERICK MILANOWSKI, ATF SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: All right, we want to talk a little bit about this because this device is a little more sophisticated than what we have seen to date. All of the evidence from the previous devices is that the ATF national laboratory as will this evidence.

But trip wire is a victim actuated switch. It literally uses some kind of wire and when there is pressure put on that wire, it activates or detonates the device. So, it could be either from tripping over it or picking up a package.

[11:10:04] Any tension that's put on that wire, sometimes it's thin filament, sometimes it's fishing line, but like the chief said, we are more concerned now that people see something suspicious, they just stay away from it altogether and contact law enforcement.

Because if they move that package, or if they step on that trip wire, it is likely that it will detonate. We want to put that information out to the public and make sure that if you see a bag, a suitcase, a box, anything that is unusual, and not normally in that area call law enforcement, we'll bring in extra explosive detection canines in order to be able to check out all of those packages, and make sure the public stays as safe as possible. Thank you. CHRISTOPHER COMBS, FBI SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: Want to highlight obviously this is very concerning to us. The FBI brought in over 350 special agents to work here. Unprecedented response to Austin. We're here to support the Austin Police Department.

I want to highlight again with these packages, with this trip wire, this changes things. It is more sophisticated. It is not targeted to individuals. We're very concerned that with trip wires a child could be walking down a sidewalk and hit something.

So, it is very important that here in Austin, if anyone sees anything suspicious, you do not go near that package, and you immediately call law enforcement, so we get bomb techs out there to deal with the suspect package.

Additional teams have been brought to bear here in Austin. With the area police departments, the state bomb squad, the federal bomb squads are here, we're bringing in extra bomb techs as we speak, to make sure that we can handle every suspicious call that happens here, not just in Austin, but in the surrounding communities as well.

So, it is very important that we stay away from anything we consider to be suspicious. I would also like to highlight there is $100,000 reward out right now for anyone that can give us information that can lead us to stop the bombings. We need this to stop. We're very concerned that people can get hurt by this, just by walking now.

We have trip wires, $100,000 is a lot of money and we're hoping somebody knows something and that they can call us and help us stop what's going on here. Thank you.

MANLEY: The only thing I'll add before we open it up for questions is we have utilized the reverse 911 system, however many of you probably already aware there was a glitch in the system and went out across the majority of the city.

So, we're putting out through social media, Travis Country is the only neighborhood that is affected, and Travis Country is the neighborhood that we want to have people stay sheltered in place in their residences until 2:00 p.m. this afternoon or until we advise further. So, with that, we'll go ahead and open up for questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At what time are you going to call this domestic terrorism?

MANLEY: Well, you know, that's been the question all along is, is this terrorism? Is this hate-related? We're early on in the investigation today. We only gotten into the preliminary phases. And as the day moves on, that is something that we're going to analyze.

We're clearly dealing with what we expect to be a serial bomber at this point based on the similarities between now what is the fourth device and, again, as we look at this individual, and the pattern, and what we're looking at here, we will have to determine if we see a specific ideology behind this or something that will lead us along with our federal partners to make that decision. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you all doing down there?

MANLEY: Right now, the ATVs are here just in case we need to go into this green belt. Again, we're not certain from which direction the suspect or suspects may have entered this area. And so, they're here in case we need to get through the wooded area here as part of the evidence-collection process.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any other neighborhoods are you searching in different places? Is it spread across the city?

MANLEY: So, what we're doing right now again as we talked about before, this has to be a community response. This is something we're going to solve as a community. The officers that are working the neighborhoods are paying attention, not only for the suspicious packages, but also items that may look out of place.

The Department of Public Safety is going to send additional troopers into the Austin area to help us patrol and be visible in the neighborhoods and to help us look for those suspicious items or just to inform the community of where we're at with the investigation. So, there is additional work being done on this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you work up a suspect profile or any kind of information about who he was targeting?

MANLEY: So, as we mentioned yesterday, we have had a large number of tips that have come in through the past week and each and every one of those tips gets worked by the teams we describe. They come into the command center and get assigned out to either a team of ATF investigators or FBI investigators or Austin Police Department investigators.

So, throughout the course of this past week, there were points in time where we had persons of interest because of information that had been provided, and then as we furthered the investigation into those individuals, either backgrounds, social media life, things like that, we have run those leads to ground and at this point we're following up on a few more.

[11:15:09] We have had persons of interest and we continue to look at a few, but we have not identified a suspect or suspects as of this time.

LAVANDERA: Chief have you been able to speak with the two latest victims and -- at all and in this latest bombing, was the package visible? Is the trip wire visible? I think people might want to know, you know, what they should be looking for.

MANLEY: Yes, so as far as speaking to the victims, they're in the hospital receiving care and that's what we're concerned with. We have had initial conversations with them to get an idea of where the device was, and the device was sitting next to a fence is where we expect it to be. And, again, as the Special Agent Milanowski talked about, the trip wire can be a filament wire, fishing line, it can be a metal wire, so that's why people just need to pay attention to see if there is a device that is seated somewhere near because the trip wire would be attached to that device and it would pull on it to activate.

So, again, that's what we need is people paying attention for suspicious objects, bags, boxes, backpacks, anything that looks out of place, and then especially if they see any type of a wire extruding from that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- about similarities and materials, anything?

MANLEY: So, we have said to this community from day one, we are going to give you information that keeps you safe. That's why we got on camera at 1:30 in the morning, when we felt like there might be a trip wire in play, because we didn't want to wait until this morning to put that information out because that's information that helps keep this community safe.

The specific components of the bomb, the firing mechanism that these suspects are -- the suspect or suspects are using that doesn't help keep the community safe and that's something being kept confidential by us and our federal partners to protect the integrity of the investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible) now like the special agent said, it is more broad, could be triggered by anyone. What does that tell you about the person behind it?

MANLEY: Well, again, as we said from the very beginning, we were not willing to classify this as terrorism, as hate, because we just don't know enough and what we have seen now is a significant change from what appeared to be three very targeted attacks to what was last night an attack that would have passed -- would have hit a random victim that happened to walk by. So, we have definitely seen a change in the method that this suspect or suspect is using.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why this suspect is doing what they're doing --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were they walking along the sidewalk along the fence and came across the trip wire or were they walking between houses? Can you help paint the picture of how they actually came into contact with the wire?

MANLEY: What we believe and again, this is all preliminary, but what we believe is they were walking either on the sidewalk or the grassy area between the street and the fence. And so, they were not walking between houses but alongside a roadway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You tried to --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think this suspect or suspect still has a message for police?

MANLEY: Well, again, we've opened ourselves up for a message. That's why we asked him to contact us and gave him phone numbers to contact us at. We won't understand what the motive might be behind this or the reason behind this until we have an opportunity to talk to the suspect or suspects that are involved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) look out for objects that are suspicious, should people adjust their lifestyle in any way until there is a solution to this?

MANLEY: Well, I think people need to be vigilant. People need to pay attention as we have been saying, you know, back since last week and a half is pay attention to your surroundings, pay attention to your neighborhoods.

If things look out of place, if there are suspicious persons, call us, let us know what is going on, and that way we can come out and we can look into that to see if it is at all related to what we're having happen in Austin right now, or if it is not, and therefore, we can put that to rest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a sophisticated device, does the trip wire suggest a military background?

MANLEY: You know, a trip wire doesn't necessarily suggest that there is a military background, what it does suggest, though, is that the suspect or suspects that we are dealing with have a higher level of sophistications than maybe we initially thought based on them changing their methods to a more difficult device.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yesterday afternoon you asked the suspect to contact you with their message. Do you think last night was their response?

MANLEY: You know, we won't know that until we have an opportunity to talk to the suspect or the suspects whether or not that was a motive behind this. That's just something we're not going to know and to that end, again, we will -- I will reach out to the suspect or suspects and ask that you contact us, reach out to us, communicate with us so we can put this to an end.

There are innocent people getting hurt in this community and it needs to come to a stop. The last thing we want to have is another injury or another death in our community related to this incident. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does anything seem to indicate that he wants to talk to you?

[11:20:07] COMBS: So just one thing, we would like to talk to the shooter, would like him to contact us as the chief said. We don't understand why they are doing this. We have people here that he can talk to. And we would like that to occur. So, we would like him to reach out and talk to us. Thank you.


COMBS: Sorry, I got to go.

BASH: You've been watching an extraordinary press conference in Austin, Texas, from the chief of police, ATF and FBI representative explaining what the chief of police in Austin said that they now can call a serial bomber, a serial bomber in their neighborhoods.

And one of the bits of news that they delivered this morning is that the bomb that went off via trip wire at about 8:30 last night, they do believe is -- they see a connection between that and the bombs that have gone off since March 2nd, which were just packages placed -- placed at houses.

So, a lot of information that we want to unpack there. We also want to reinforce that the people in that neighborhood are still told to remain in their houses, not to leave until 2:00 p.m., local 3:00 p.m. Eastern, so they can make sure it is safe.

We have a lot to talk about. We have some experts on the other side of the break. Stay with us.



BASH: Welcome back. Before the break, we brought you a press conference with law enforcement officials in Austin, Texas, describing really a terrifying situation because they're calling it a serial bomber, we now have four bombs exploding.

The last of which was last night at about 8:30 p.m. done via trip wire, which was a first. The others -- the other three since March 2nd were bomb packages just placed in and around houses. And this is something that these law enforcement officials say they have no leads, no suspects for.

And I want to break down what we heard from those law enforcement officials, from CNN's law enforcement analyst and former supervisory agent, special agent, I should say, at the FBI, James Gagliano. Thank you so much. First of all, what was your takeaway from the way that these law enforcement agents and officials described the situation?

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Sure, Dana. It is always good to see interagency cooperation. I think the local police in Austin, the FBI and the ATF are working in concert on this case right now. Now, it clearly appears to be a serial bomber. There are two things that they got to be hyperfocused on right now.

The first is they got to attempt to discern what the bombmaker's signature is. Now, every bomb has four components. It has a power supply, and initiator, a particular type of explosive, and it has a switch.

In this instance that switch appears to have been a trip wire as explained by the ATF special agent in charge. The second piece of this, Dana, which is equally important, is link analysis.

And early on in this investigation there was some concern that this might have been a hate crime, predicated at targeting packages delivered to the porches of African-Americans or Latinos.

In this instance, what happened last night appears to have been what we call a target of opportunity, meaning the device was set up, a trip wire was employed and whatever victim came out and activated it would thus be hurt.

So, those are two important things we need to find out. A, is it the same bombmaker which it appears to be, and, B, what is the linkage here, how can we get in front of this and try to predict where this bomber might try to strike again.

BASH: And, couple of things struck me, first of all, at the end, the special FBI agent who is there helping coordinate, stayed at the microphones and elicited a direct message to the shooter or shooters to talk to them. Take me behind the psychology of that.

GAGLIANO: Sure, obviously you're dealing with a depraved sociopath, most of these folks are egotistical or megalomaniacs. The attention is something that feeds them and fuels them, but it also potentially helps us have them make a mistake.

Now, we certainly would love for the person to phone in and say I'm the one that has been doing this, please come and arrest me, but in most of these instances, what it does is spark something, we call it if you're doing a title three wire operation, we call it tickling the wire, trying to do something that will cause the potential target to make a misstep or to do something that we can then interdict or step in.

So, I think that's what they're trying to do here. It is frustrating. I know I can see it on their faces and I know Christopher Combs, I know the situation here is, you know, you're dealing with limited leads, some forensic things to go through.

They are still working on that at the crime scene, and they have also got to do some really intricate link analysis here and try to get in front of this thing and figure out where this person could potentially strike next.

BASH: I think I said, calling out to the shooter, it is a bomber in this situation. One thing that struck me is, I believe, it was the police chief, James, who said that now that they have the situation from last night with the trip wire, that not only do they believe it is more sort of generalized, not necessarily targeted potentially as a hate crime or otherwise, but also that the people or the person behind this has a higher level of sophistication. Is it really that much harder to set off a bomb with a trip wire than putting it on a porch?

GAGLIANO: They didn't give all the details there. To your point, that's a great question. We don't know. They didn't want to get into specifics of what the actual components of the bomb are. They have got a signature here that tells them that the trip wire activated device was the same as the package activated device.

Now, they got to do a lot of forensic evidence, harvesting here and they've tried to again make sure that they reached out to the public. This is a post-9/11 world, Dana.