As SXSW Rolls On, Threat Of More Package Bombs Has Austin On Edge

Next to the frenzied crowds of San Diego’s Comic-Con and the masses that jam into New Orleans for Mardi Gras, SXSW is a pretty laid back event in its celebration of film, music, tech and other arts in Austin, Texas.

However, a trio of package explosions in residential areas has shaken the city of nearly one million people, with two occurring yesterday, killing 17-year old Draylen Mason who Austin Police Chief Brian Manley has described in reports as an “outstanding young man who was going places with his life,” and wounding a 75-year old Hispanic woman who remains in critical condition. Mason died at the scene while his mother was taken to the hospital with injuries.

Officials have said they do not see any connection between the bombings and the SXSW festival. Furthermore the explosions occurred far from the festival’s downtown venue area which includes the Convention Center, the Paramount and State Theatres and hotels. In fact, an upbeat, calm mood remains among attendees in the area. While the busiest part of the film portion is winding down, an even bigger turnout is expected for the music portion of SXSW which started yesterday and runs through March 18. The fear residing is among those in neighborhoods where they have to keep a watchful eye on a common occurrence: Receiving an average size delivery box on their doorsteps.

SXSW issued the following statement in response to the recent tragedies:

SXSW is heartbroken by the explosions in Austin earlier this month and today. Our thoughts are with the victims and those affected. @Austin_Police are conducting ongoing investigations related to these incidents. Please stay safe, and if you see something, say something.

— SXSW (@sxsw) March 12, 2018

The package explosions have been described as pipe bombs rigged to detonate upon opening. The first of the three bombs went off on March 2, killing Anthony Stephen House, a 39-year old black man. Both House and Mason are relatives of prominent African American members in Austin’s community according to The Washington Posts, but the third victim has no ties. House was the stepson of Freddie Dixon, a former pastor at a historic black church in Austin, while Dixon is friends with Mason’s grandfather, according to the Post.

Authorities are still investigating whether the bombings were hate crimes. Gov. Greg Abbott announced a $15K reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons involved in the package blasts; while the Austin Police are offering a $50K reward per local Austin Fox 7 affiliate. FBI and ATF are assisting the Austin Police with the investigation.

Four years ago during SXSW, a driver plowed through a barricade and into festival-goers, killing four people and injuring many others. Additional security measures were taken in the aftermath, including additional policing, tougher security checks and brighter street lighting, among others.

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