Austin Residents Respond To Package Bombings

Mar 16, 2018
Originally published on March 16, 2018 7:17 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The city of Austin, Texas, is on edge. Three package bombs have killed two people and left two more seriously hurt this month. The Austin police department and the FBI are looking into the explosions. They believe they are related and may have been racially motivated. While investigators search for a suspect, community members look to each other for support. DaLyah Jones from our member station KUT in Austin has the story.

CHAS MOORE: We're here tonight to talk about the need for us to protect ourselves and get to know one another.

DALYAH JONES, BYLINE: Austin Justice Coalition founder Chas Moore speaks to a crowd of more than 400 people in the sanctuary of the Greater Mount Zion Baptist Church on the historically black and Hispanic east side of Austin. It's located less than a mile from the home of 17-year-old African-American Draylen Mason, who was killed by one of the bombs.

MOORE: I don't think the community is responding in a way of fear. This is about, OK, what can we do and how can we come together to either prevent these things from happening or be there for each other if things like this are going to continue happening?

JONES: During the event hosted by the Austin Justice Coalition and the Austin Black Lives Matter chapter, they spoke about solutions, talking to kids about the danger of opening packages left in front of homes, for example. But the one thing that everyone came to a consensus on was fellowship among neighbors. Angela Benavides-Garza was raised in east Austin. She didn't know any of the three victims personally, but she says listening to each other and watching each other's backs, that's what's important.

ANGELA BENAVIDES-GARZA: Everybody who came together, all relations, and the way that we came together in such a caring way and not a way to bash anyone. It was also take step responsibility and how we're going to help each other and bridge over.

JONES: That responsibility is also emphasized by Austin Police Chief Brian Manley. The first explosion killed 39-year-old Anthony House at his home in north Austin. Police first thought House's death was a drug-related homicide. But that changed after Mason was killed and 75-year-old Esperanza Herrera was critically wounded just hours apart by package bombs left at their doorsteps. Manley says he's listening to the community and taking steps to prevent another bombing.

BRIAN MANLEY: We need the community's eyes, the community's ears. We need to know when people see something suspicious.

JONES: Manley also says the department is receiving help for more than 300 federal agents to investigate the case and look into some 500 tips the department has received from the community. In the meantime, Garza says, the people of color in the area have to stick together.

BENAVIDES-GARZA: At the end of the day, it's all about love overriding, you know, hate. And it's all about the light, blasting out darkness so that we do bridge back together and we're not separated and divided and conquered in any way.

JONES: That's especially true amid a rapidly changing Austin, a city where the black population is an even smaller slice of an otherwise growing population. For NPR News, I'm DaLyah Jones in Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.