National News

Out of Tight-Knit Family, Loner Who Liked to Argue

Posted March 21, 2018 10:15 p.m. EDT

PFLUGERVILLE, Texas — The Austin bombing suspect who blew himself up Wednesday in a confrontation with police was an intense loner who grew up in a tight-knit, deeply religious family, according to friends and neighbors.

Mark Conditt, 23, could sometimes get angry over a misunderstanding, remembered Jeremiah Jensen, who knew Conditt because they were both home-schooled in Pflugerville, a town 20 miles north of Austin.

Jensen said he was one of a few people who tried to push through Conditt’s “hard-to-get-along-with” exterior. He said Conditt was not overtly political when they were growing up, but seemed to like debating issues and probing logical extremes.

“He could be dominant in conversations,” said Jensen, 24, who now lives in Dallas and had not been in touch with Conditt frequently for the last four or five years. “It would seem like he was trying to argue with you and give pushback on things you were trying to say. It didn’t have to be serious. He liked to debate.”

On Wednesday, authorities across the Austin area carried out a sprawling search for clues about Conditt’s actions and motives, as well as other explosive devices he may have left behind before he blew himself up early Wednesday morning as the police closed in.

Chief Brian Manley of the Austin Police Department said that Conditt had made a 25-minute recording in which he discussed the bombs and how he had made them. The recording, Manley said, was “the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his personal life that led him to this point.”

In Pflugerville, authorities swarmed a home where Conditt had been living with two roommates, a location that Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters could contain a “treasure trove” about the suspect’s motives and methods.

The roommates were detained for questioning, and one had been released by Wednesday afternoon, according to the Austin Police Department.

Investigators also searched the nearby home of Conditt’s parents, including several backyard sheds on their property, but had not found any explosive devices by Wednesday afternoon. Detective David Fugitt, a homicide detective with the Austin police, told reporters that the Conditt family was cooperating.

“We don’t have any information to believe that the family had any knowledge of these events,” Fugitt said. “They’re having a difficult time. This is certainly a shock to the conscience.”

Family friends, neighbors and former classmates were at a loss to explain why Conditt had carried out the attacks, how he had learned about bomb-making or whether he was driven by racial animus. The first bombs hit members of African-American families who were well known locally, killing a 17-year-old boy and a 39-year-old man. Conditt was white.

Conditt grew up as the quiet, socially awkward oldest child of a devout Christian family that held Bible study groups in their white clapboard house, where an American flag hangs from the front porch.

After Conditt, 23, was identified Wednesday as the serial bomber who killed two people and terrorized Texas’ capital, Conditt’s mother sent a text message to a friend, Donna Sebastian Harp. It said: “Pray for our family. We are under attack” — a reference to a spiritual assault.

“It’s a Christian-ese thing we say,” Harp said. “Pray: the situation is very serious.”

Abbott told the television station KXAN that Conditt did not have a criminal record, had not served in the military and was unemployed. He said it appeared that Conditt had acted alone, but authorities had not definitively ruled out whether he had any accomplices.

In 2012, Conditt hashed out some of his views on a blog that he created for a political science class while he was a student at Austin Community College. Jessica Vess, a college spokeswoman, said that Conditt had attended from 2010 to 2012 as a business administration major.

McKenna McIntosh, who was in the political science class with Conditt, said that the views on his blog — called Defining My Stance — were as “clear as day.” In an author bio on the site, Conditt described himself as a conservative but said he was “not that politically inclined.” His six posts, which date from January to March 2012, include arguments in favor of the death penalty, against the legalization of same-sex marriage and in support of the end of sex offender registries. The blog does not discuss Conditt’s views on guns or gun control, but McIntosh said that the topic was often discussed, and that she did not recall Conditt ever advocating violence. She also said she did not recall any class discussions involving Conditt’s views on race.

In his profile for the blog, Conditt wrote: “The reasons I am taking this class is because I want to understand the US government, and I hope that it will help me clarify my stance, and then defend it.”

Pamela Crouch, who home-schools her children in Pflugerville and has known the Conditts for several years, said her family attended a Bible study group at the Conditt home in the early 2000s, when both families belonged to a small evangelical church, Grace, that has since shut down.

Crouch said the church had an economically and racially diverse congregation. She described the family as “lovely people” and said that Mark Conditt’s mother did some work outside the home as well as home-school their four children.

Real estate records show that Conditt and his father, William Conditt, bought what a neighbor described as a 1950s-era house together in Pflugerville in 2017, and a neighbor and family friend said the younger Conditt and his father had been remodeling it.

“They treated it as a rebuilding, bonding project over the course of a year,” said Mark Roessler, 57, who lives across the street. He described the son as courteous, unassuming and very quiet.

Other neighbors said they saw little of the younger Conditt.

“I think he was pretty much a loner,” said Jay Schulze, a network engineer who lived about two blocks down, adding that Conditt spent most of his time with his parents. Conditt worked for a local manufacturer, Crux Manufacturing, for about four years until he was fired this past August after he failed to meet job expectations, the company told a local television station, KVUE.

Katie Burke, a receptionist at Platinum Gymnastics in Pflugerville, said Conditt had also worked for the gym around 2012, when the gym was under different management at a separate location in Round Rock.

Jeff Reeb, 75, a neighbor of Conditt’s parents, said the Conditts had never expressed concerns about their son to him.

“I can tell you nothing about him personally, except that he was a nice, young kid,” Reeb said. “He always seemed like he was smart. And he always seemed like he was very polite.”

Reeb added: “My summation is it doesn’t make any sense.”