Questions Surround Austin Bombing Investigation Efforts, View Of Suspect

Mar 24, 2018
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The investigation continues into the deadly bombings that terrorized Austin over several weeks, so does the controversy over how to describe the suspect who blew himself up as police approached. Many Austin residents and victims' relatives say they have questions about the early stages of the investigation, but the people that NPR's Cheryl Corley spoke with had no doubt about how they view the suspect. Here's her report from Austin.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: The streets are wide and full of trees and birds near the home of 75-year-old Esperanza Herrera - or Hope, as her families and friends call her. Herrera, one of the victims of the Austin bombing, remains hospitalized. In a cafe parking lot not far from the neighborhood, Herrera's nephew, Zeke Prada (ph), says while some have portrayed the bombing suspect as a troubled young man, he thinks otherwise.

ZEKE PRADA: I'd like him to be called, you know, for what he is - a terrorist suicide bomber. And I want his name to be erased. I don't want him to be glorified.

CORLEY: On the east side of Austin, Karlisha Bell (ph), a teacher and writer, talked with friends out on their front porch.

KARLISHA BELL: I think this is probably the first example where I really had the experience of being terrorized.

CORLEY: A fear, says Bell, prompted because she lives in the middle of the region where the early bombs exploded and killed two African-Americans. Plus, her nearby neighbors regularly receive packages. Although investigators suggested later that the bombings weren't hate crimes related to race, Bell is skeptical.

BELL: If you target this side of town in Austin, Texas, you're targeting people of color. This is where, historically, the people of color were pushed east of the I-35 line. This is their side of town.

CORLEY: And she's annoyed that not all authorities called the suspect bomber a terrorist.

BELL: It's very obvious what this is about to me because if he was any other race, he would be called a terrorist. I can't imagine a world where he wouldn't be called a terrorist if he was Muslim.

CORLEY: At Mr. Catfish, a soulfood joint a few miles away, there's a steady flow of people picking up orders. Hazel Scott (ph), a minister, says there are still many questions that need answering.

HAZEL SCOTT: What was the point in doing all of this? You said the person was disturbed, well, I believe that. It would take a disturbed person to do these things.

CORLEY: Scott says she believes authorities didn't act quickly enough after the first bombing occurred on March 2.

SCOTT: I can't say that they did what they could. You know, it should have been taken seriously in the first place. It doesn't matter if there was one person or 10 persons. It was still a person.

CORLEY: And Scott says, although it's been quiet in recent days, she still is not resting easy. On Guadalupe Street, activist Chaz Moore (ph) had just finished meeting with Herrera's nephew. An African-American, Moore says there's a double standard when it comes to crime. And if a black or Latino was the Austin bombing suspect, there would be no equivocation about terrorism.

CHAZ MOORE: The troubled young man part wouldn't have been talked about in the story. It would have just been - this person is a terrorist terrorizing our community. That matters because I think communities of color are tired of being subjugated to such rhetoric when other people are not. And I think we, as a society, have to really question, why is it that?

CORLEY: Moore and others say answering that question should be part of Austin's healing process. Cheryl Corley NPR News, Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.