Although the suspected Austin serial bomber is dead, UT will remain on high alert in regard to campus safety and security in the following weeks.
Over the last couple of weeks, four explosions have shaken Austin, leaving two dead and four injured, with one explosion outside of San Antonio injuring one. Suspect Mark A. Conditt of Pflugerville, 23, was killed Wednesday morning when he detonated a bomb in his car as police closed in on him. Despite the suspect being dead, UT is not letting its guard down.
“If you see something, say something,” UT Police Department Chief David Carter said. “We know that the potential bomber blew up, but it’s very important for people to understand that does not eliminate all threats.”
Carter said UTPD is working hard to ensure the safety of UT, but the community has the responsibility to be vigilant. Throughout the bombings, Carter said UT was never under immediate threat.
After the fourth explosion Sunday, Carter said he finalized a UTPD bomb task force that was put together over spring break and has specially trained officers and bomb-detection K9 dogs that are proactively searching the University.
“We are routinely going through mailrooms and through different buildings,” Carter said. “Those officers and those dogs are there for the safety of the community.”
In the last few days, UTPD has responded to nearly 30 calls of suspicious packages or items, Carter said. The University has recently increased the security of mail coming in and out of UT, University officials said.
In his 33 years of police service, Carter said he has never experienced anything like this.
“A serial bomber is a unique circumstance and is terrifying for the public and terrifying for law enforcement,” Carter said.
Carter said UTPD will continue to be on high alert and conduct routine bomb checks indefinitely.
Early reports speculated the suspect was possibly targeting minorities because the victims of the first two explosions were minorities. Later, however, there were two white male victims. While the motive is still being investigated by authorities, neuroscience sophomore Eloise Taha said the recent bombings have still worried her.
“I don’t feel safe on campus, especially considering the bombings (were reportedly) targeting marginalized individuals,” Taha said. “As a black woman on campus, I am in constant worry for my fellow black students. I worry that UT is a target.”
Jimmy Johnson, interim vice president of Campus Safety and Security, said UT has had emergency measures in place for many years.
“We’re the flagship university in the UT system, which always makes us a target,” Johnson said. “We want to make this a hardened target.”
UT has several emergency plans and offers training to students and faculty to execute these plans. Annex III, Building Emergency, Management and Restricted Access includes evacuation routes, instructions for lockdown, emergency flyers and a UTPD bomb threat checklist. Every year, the University reevaluates these plans and procedures.
“Each building has a building manager that we provide training for in the event of an emergency,” Johnson said. “They are very familiar with their buildings. We use them as our first line of defense.”
Johnson said he strongly agrees with UTPD’s “See something, say something” motto.
“This is not just a law enforcement problem, it’s a community problem,” Johnson said. “So it takes a community to solve it.”