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A father, a musician, a salsa maker — the lives and futures lost in the Austin bombings

Neighbors of 17-year-old Draylen Mason, who was killed by a package bomb in Austin, say they want more answers from police. (Video: Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post)

Austin’s serial bombing suspect is dead. But the chaos created by his deadly, improvised devices, stretching across dozens of miles, may continue.

Five explosions sparked fears of a sophisticated bomber deploying numerous kinds of devices in the dense city since March 2 — first, package bombs and then one utilizing a trip wire. A package detonated at a FedEx facility early Tuesday in Schertz, a San Antonio suburb about 60 miles from Austin.

In announcing the suspect’s death early Wednesday, authorities said they are worried the 24-year-old man allegedly responsible for the string of terror left additional explosives behind.

“We are concerned that there may be other packages that are still out there,” said Christopher Combs, special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Antonio office.

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Austin, a destination city for music fans and barbecue pilgrimages, has long struggled with growth and segregation. Those twin tensions of the bustling state capital have been laid bare in the aftermath of the bombings, which have killed two people and wounded at least three.

Here are the stories of the victims.

Bomb 1: Anthony Stephan House, 39

The March 2 explosion that killed Anthony Stephan House, a construction worker and money manager, received little attention at first.

Police described the explosion of a package left on his doorstep as an isolated incident with no continuing threat to the community after House died in a hospital less than an hour after it was reported.

House, remembered by friends as a quiet and motivated man, left behind an 8-year-old daughter. He went to high school in Pflugerville, an Austin suburb, where he ran track and played basketball.

A local man to the end, he graduated from Texas State University, a college down the highway about midway between San Antonio and Austin.

“He wanted to be something different and bigger than what a lot of people thought he was going to do,” Greg Padgitt, a friend from high school, told the Austin-American Statesman. “He was quiet, but jokey with the kids that he let in. He was a great kid.”

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House’s stepfather, Freddie Dixon, said House’s daughter was inside the home when the explosion occurred.

But the police took days to reveal that House was killed by the explosion or that a package was involved. They also pursued the possibility that it was a botched retaliation after a recent drug raid on that street.

Assistant Chief Joseph Chacon said at the time, “We can’t rule out that Mr. House didn’t construct this himself and accidentally detonate it, in which case it would be an accidental death.”

The next explosion eight days later would change what authorities thought was happening in Austin.

Bomb 2: Draylen Mason, 17

Before he was killed in a blast on March 12, Draylen Mason was college-bound.

He was involved in the Austin Soundwaves, a music-education program for underserved students in Central Texas. He took to the stand-up bass and even played in a mariachi band.

“He was amazing, so passionate and very well-rounded,” said junior Eli Hernandez, 17, who described Mason as something of a role model. “Everyone could see he had a bright future with music.”

Mason caught the eye and ear of Doug Dempster, dean of the University of Texas’s College of Fine Arts in central Austin. Dempster had for years been watching Mason develop not only himself but also students around him. At 17, he stopped and patiently helped his fellow burgeoning musicians in the trade.

“He was every inch a musician . . . the very most remarkable talent in a most remarkable youth orchestra program . . . He carried himself with a kind of quiet maturity that belied his youth,” Dempster said in a statement. He said Mason expected to become a Longhorn in the fall.

Exploding packages tap into simmering tensions over Austin’s racial segregation

But like House eight days earlier, Mason retrieved a package on the doorstep of his home. The explosion killed him and injured his mother.

And like House, Mason was black. Both lived on the east side of Austin, where gentrification has displaced historically black and Latino neighborhoods.

Once the second bombing occurred and police warned the city that they could be related, the black community raised concerns that authorities did not move fast enough to warn others and ventured that there would have been a faster response had the bombing occurred on the affluent west side.

There was also speculation that the victims were targeted because of close connections. Dixon, stepfather to House, is friends with Mason’s grandfather Norman, both prominent fixtures at a local black church.

Police Chief Brian Manley later apologized for his assistant chief openly suggesting that House’s death may have been self-inflicted.

Authorities were still responding at Mason’s home when another explosion rocked the east side.

Bomb 3: Esperanza Herrera, 75

The bomber did not appear to have targeted Esperanza Herrera. But the explosion nearly killed her anyway.

Herrera was visiting her elderly mother’s house and picked up a package that authorities later said was bound for another address. Her mother, Maria Moreno, often needed overnight care, neighbors said.

“She used to come by and pick roses from my yard to take to her mother,” neighbor Jesse Barba said. “She loved them so much I gave her a piece of the bush.”

Herrera has undergone surgery at the Dell Seton Medical Center in Austin, her cousin Joe Torres told The Post on Thursday. He said she lost some fingers in the explosion, and doctors amputated her leg Monday. He said he believed she was in stable condition after the procedure.

“We still haven’t seen her yet,” he said. “We don’t even know what she looks like.”

Herrera’s kitchen talents will be missed during her long recovery. Neighbors said Herrera and her mother used to sell jars of homemade salsa on the block.

“They make some good salsa,” said Julian Treviño Jr., who lives with his family a few houses away from Moreno.

Bomb 4: Two unidentified victims

Hundreds of federal enforcement officials and scores of police officers widened their search for the bomber or bombers, even pleading with them to come forward to discuss any demands as they warned Austinites to report suspicious packages.

The fourth bomb to rock Austin was neither on the east side nor concealed in a package. An explosive device detonated Sunday night after being triggered by a trip wire in what authorities called the work of a “sophisticated serial bomber.” Two men were injured.

Police have not revealed the names of the victims. But the Associated Press spoke with William Grote, who said his grandson Will and a friend were struck by the blast. His grandson had nails embedded in his knees, Grote said. Bombers will often add makeshift shrapnel such as nails, screws and ball bearings to increase a bomb’s killing power.

“It was so dark they couldn’t tell and they tripped,” he said, according to the AP. “They didn’t see it. It was a wire. And it blew up.”

Grote said his son, who lived about 100 yards from the site, heard the explosion and raced outside. “Both of them were kind of bleeding profusely,” Grote said.

Eliza May, who lives in the neighborhood, said the incident turned the area upside down.

“This thing is overwhelming,” she said. “My house is a crime scene. I can see the FBI right now — they’re in hazmat suits, walking in a line down the street.”

Bomb 5: FedEx facility

The package bomb detonated at the FedEx facility early Tuesday in Schertz left no injuries, authorities said, beyond an employee complaining of ringing in the ears, presumably from the concussive blast. She was treated and released.

The package was en route to Austin, according to police, and officials said they say they think it was the work of the same person or people responsible for the four earlier explosions in Austin. The Tuesday explosion was the first outside Austin and the first bomb to percolate through the mail system.

The scene of destruction now crawls up and down the Interstate 35 corridor, the main highway cutting through Austin and San Antonio.

Aside from the constant requests for interviews, life had returned to normal around the site where the tripwire bomb was detonated.

On Tuesday afternoon, near the site, a stain of blood remained on the sidewalk near leafy Dawn Song Drive in southwest Austin.

Devlin Barrett, Mark Berman, Meagan Flynn, Julie Tate and Scott Wilson contributed to this report. 

This story incorrectly stated the day of the second and third bombing. It has been updated.

Austin residents say they feel on edge after package bombs were left at three homes, killing two people and injuring one. (Video: Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post)

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