AUSTIN — Nervous residents of Austin called police more than 265 times by Tuesday evening to report suspicious packages near their homes following a series of package explosions that left two people dead and two others seriously injured.
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley encouraged residents to call 911 if they found any packages on their doorsteps that they weren't expecting or did not include normal markings. During news conferences following two separate explosions on Monday, Manley urged residents not to open those packages and to call police directly.
Residents of the Texas capital responded on Tuesday, reflecting the tension that is gripping the Texas capital.
"Honestly, we're definitely more cautious, especially with things left on our porch," said Jordan Russ, 25, an Apple employee who lives across the street from the first of three recent bombings.
As residents remained on the lookout, law enforcement officials reported little progress in what has become a multi-agency investigation to find the serial bomber.
The FBI dispatched behavioral profilers, evidence collection teams and bomb technicians. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent 30 specialists, including analysts and explosives specialists. State and federal prosecutors are also involved in the investigation that has grown to over 100 law enforcement officials.
"We will be here with the chief and with the Austin Police Department until we resolve this and make sure that there are no other explosive devices in the city," Christopher Combs, special agent in charge of the FBI's San Antonio division, said Tuesday.
But with little to go on so far, police are pleading with the public for help. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott offered a $15,000 reward on Tuesday for information leading to the arrest of those responsible, and Manley said on Tuesday his office was adding an additional $50,000 reward.
"Please partner with us on this. Be our eyes. Be our ears," Manley said. "If you see something, say something, call us. If you know something, call the tip line."
During an afternoon press conference Tuesday, officials provided a few more details on the case.
The first package exploded on March 2, killing 39-year-old Anthony Stephan House when he picked up a package on the front porch of his northern Austin home. On Tuesday, the one-story brick building still showed signs of the carnage, with plywood in place of the front door and wall paneling torn away.
Russ said the explosion, which occurred just before 7 a.m., was so loud it woke him up. "It woke pretty much everybody up," he said.
Manley pointed to that explosion when asked Tuesday about the injuries people have received from the bombs.
"You only have to go back and look at the front porch of the March 2 incident…to see the explosive blast that took place there," he said. "These are traumatic, penetrating injuries, along with a concussive wave that can cause significant injuries."
The second bomb exploded before 7 a.m. on Monday inside a home in East Austin. Police said 17-year-old Draylen Mason brought the package inside the kitchen and was opening it alongside his mother when it exploded.
Mason died, and his mother remains hospitalized in stable condition.
"From everything I’ve heard about Draylen, he was an outstanding young man who was going places with his life," Manley said. "It’s an absolute tragedy that he’s no longer with us."
The third blast came a short time later in a neighborhood south of downtown Austin. A 75-year-old Hispanic woman was picking up a package on her front porch when it exploded, seriously injuring her. Manley said she remains hospitalized with "life-threatening injuries."
Police initially raised the possibility of a hate crime because victims in the first two explosions were black. The third victim was Hispanic, so it's not clear whether that pattern is intentional.
The bombings come as the city is hosting the SXSW festival, which has attracted global leaders in business, technology, music and film. Festival organizers issued a statement that said they were "heartbroken" by the explosions and urged attendees to keep an eye out for any suspicious behavior.
"Please stay safe, and if you see something, say something," they wrote on Twitter.
The United States Postal Service confirmed that none of the packages involved in the attacks was delivered by their carriers or any other traditional delivery service like FedEx, UPS or DHL.
Manley said the three boxes were similar — plain cardboard packaging without standard shipping labels. He warned residents, however, to look for any kind of suspicious packages, just in case the bomber changes his tactics.
Mike Sullivan, a Postal Service spokesman in Austin, said the service has maintained strict security protocols for handling dangerous packages since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And while letter carries are not adjusting their routine in Austin while the serial bomber remains at large, he said they are well aware of what's happening.
"Our protocols are not changed, they're just reinforced," Sullivan said.
Contributing: Alan Gomez in Miami.