Austin police label serial bomber ‘very challenged,’ prompting internet outcry

The internet is in revolt after Austin Police Chief Brian Manley told press on Wednesday that a video confession of 23-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt, the Austin bomber who killed two people and injured others over the course of 19 days, depicted him as a “very challenged young man.”

At a press conference in the day following Conditt’s death, Manley said Conditt had recorded a 25-minute-long cell phone video confessing to the crimes. However, while the media and onlookers speculated that Conditt’s motive was terroristic or racist—as he initially targeted Black and Hispanic families with package bombs—Manley said the video did not mention anything about terrorism and hate.

Manley did, however, say that Conditt’s confessional was “the outcry very challenged young man,” and that, in the video, he talked about personal challenges in his life that “led him to this point.”

For many of the people who have time and again watched white male criminals be called “deeply troubled” while people of color are targeted and racially profiled as if they are terrorists, having authorities describe Conditt as a “very challenged young man” wasn’t going to cut it.

While Conditt’s life may very well have been filled with “challenges,”  something that critics didn’t deny, Manley’s characterization of someone who murdered innocent people felt very out of place. Many critics elaborated on their hope that brown and Black people would one day be given the same opportunity to be labeled as “challenged” for similar acts of violence.

And some joked that the phrase “very challenged young man” was a coded word for “white,” reflecting just how frequent the motives by violent white men such as Conditt and Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock aren’t defined by law enforcement as terrorism-based.

David Begnaud, CBS correspondent, pointed out that Conditt might not have described terroristic motives, but that what he did to the city of Austin was undoubtedly terrorism, though domestic. (The federal government’s definition of domestic terrorism includes the intention to intimidate or coerce civilians, or government conduct or policy.)

Toward the end of the press conference, Austin Mayor Steve Adler thanked and congratulated law enforcement, calling upon residents to get to know the people in their communities better.

“The legacy of this event for us should be that we walk across the street and introduce ourselves to our neighbors,” Adler said. “We should know our neighbors better than we do.”

Police said they will not be releasing Conditt’s video at this time, so we may never know what exact “challenges” he was indeed facing.

Update 3:35pm, March 22: Manley responded to critics who took issue with his description of Conditt as “challenged” on Thursday, saying that this characterization was not his personal opinion but a reiteration of how the bomber described himself.

“In no way am I going to be sympathetic toward someone who murdered people in our community,” Manley told local station KVUE. “What my comments were, were a reflection of what his comments were. They are not my belief, they are not my opinion. What I was trying to convey to the community was what I heard in his words. And so I do understand that there were folks that were concerned about that. This man created terror in our community by his actions, undoubtedly. And that is my opinion. And what I was doing in that press conference was trying to describe what he said — how he described his life. There is no way I would ever try to mitigate his actions and my heart is with the families in this community that lost lives or had lives forever changed as a result of his acts.”

Manley also said police may eventually release Conditt’s video depending on the outcome of the investigation.

Samantha Grasso

Samantha Grasso

Samantha Grasso is a former IRL staff writer for the Daily Dot with a reporting emphasis on immigration. Her work has appeared on Los Angeles Magazine, Death And Taxes, Revelist, Texts From Last Night, Austin Monthly, and she has previously contributed to Texas Monthly.