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Over the past two weeks, three package bombs have gone off in Austin, Texas, leaving two residents dead and another two injured. Austin residents wonder if the attacks are racially motivated.
Anthony Stephan House, 39, was killed on his front porch on March 2 after discovering a suspicious package. Seventeen-year-old Draylen Mason was killed during a second blast on Monday, after a package that had been left on his doorstep was opened in the family’s kitchen. His mother was also injured during the blast.
The two victims, both of whom were African-American, had familial connections; House is the son of the Reverend Freddie Dixon, who is reportedly a close friend of Dr. Norman Mason, the grandfather of 17-year-old Draylen Mason. Nelson Linder, president of the local NAACP chapter, says that the families of both victims have known each other for a long time and even go to the same church.
Monday also marked the third bombing: Esperanza Herrera, a 75-year-old Hispanic woman, picked up the explosive package that was intended for someone else. The explosion left her hospitalized in critical condition, and police believe the package was meant for another woman who is not related to the Mason family, but who shares their name.
“The intended target was another person who might be connected to the House and Mason families,” Linder told NBC News on Wednesday, opting not to identify a possible culprit or motive.
Police are considering the possibility that the attacks could be hate crimes, CNN reports, but while they have agreed that the incidents are related, they do not yet have a motive for the bombings.
“We cannot rule out hate, but we're not saying it's hate,” Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said during a community town hall meeting held in East Austin on Thursday, the same area where the bombings took place. “We do feel targeted. Until it happens to somebody that is not a person of color I think that is going to remain the same,” said Austin Justice Coalition executive director Chas Moore. AJC, grassroots community organization that serves marginalized people of color, hosted the town hall.
Part of that concern comes from the racial divide in the area, CNN reports, which is steadily becoming more and more gentrified.
"Austin is a liberal city but it's liberal to a max," Moore said. "We still have black and brown people who have been pushed out of the east side."
Authorities have since urged residents to be cautious when handling any unexpected packages, and are still seeking any new information that could shed light on the case.
"I know there's someone out there who knows who's doing this," Manley said. "We have to impose upon them the importance of coming forward."