After 19 days, the fear and anxiety that have haunted the city of Austin, Texas, may have reached an end on Wednesday. The suspect in a series of bombings blew himself up in a truck as the police approached. Six different bombs, considered linked by the police, have killed two people and injured five more since March 2. Four of them exploded in Austin; one went off in a FedEx facility in Schertz, Texas (in a package headed for an Austin address); another was found and recovered undetonated at another FedEx facility near the Austin airport.
The suspect was a 23-year-old named Mark Conditt, and he left behind a videotaped confession. According to The New York Times, Austin officials have cautioned that there may still be other bombs out there, planted before the man died. While it appears that Conditt worked alone, authorities have not yet ruled out the possibility of accomplices. But even if it is truly over, residents of the Austin area have already been living with the knowledge that a bomber is at large for the better part of a month. That kind of violent-crime spree can take a toll on a community—both while it’s happening and after it’s over.
Michael Cannell is a journalist and the author of Incendiary, a book that chronicles the story of another serial bomber—the so-called “Mad Bomber” who terrorized New York with more than 30 bombs in the 1950s. “He had kind of a genius for stoking fear,” Cannell says. “The fear in these cases is disproportionate to the actual threat. Homemade bombs—yes, they can kill and cause terrible damage, but they are not enormous explosives. They are days, or more likely, weeks, apart. Relative to the other threats—I’m thinking about gun deaths, I’m thinking about car accidents—serial bombers do not present a statistically enormous threat. Yet the fear and anxiety they produce can paralyze entire communities.”