TX bombings could be hate crimes

Two of the victims had family ties to historic African American church in Austin.

BY SAM HODGES | UMNS | March 17, 2018

Two people killed in separate package bombs in Austin this month had family members who attended Wesley United Methodist Church. Police have not ruled not out the possibility that the bombings are hate crimes.
Credit: Wesley UMC Website

A man and a teenager recently killed in separate package explosions in Austin, Texas, both had family ties to a historic African-American United Methodist Church in the city.

The pastor of Wesley United Methodist confirmed the connections but emphasized that neither of the victims attended the church and that he has no reason to believe the church was a target or factor.

“None, not at all,” said the Rev. Sylvester Chase, adding that he had not been contacted by police.

Police investigators in Austin are searching for a motive for the three bombings and said Sunday they have not ruled out terrorism or hate crimes for at least the first three explosions. A similar bomb -- this one by the side of the road -- injured two young men on bicycles Sunday. It is the forth such explosion this month.

Anthony Stephan House, 39, was killed at his Austin home March 2 when a package he opened exploded.

Chase said House is the stepson of the Rev. Freddie Dixon, who is a former longtime pastor at Wesley and son of the late United Methodist Bishop Ernest Dixon.

Freddie Dixon, a retired elder, co-founded the Austin Area Urban League and has been widely honored for his community and church work.

He and his wife still attend Wesley, Chase said.

On March 12, 17-year-old Draylen Mason was killed after opening a package that exploded.

“His grandparents go to Wesley,” Chase said.

The bomb that killed the youth also wounded his mother and was one of two bombs that exploded in Austin on March 12, during the city’s South by Southwest Music Festival, The Associated Press reported.

The second March 12 bombing critically wounded a 75-year-old Hispanic woman.

Investigators believe all three bombings are related.

Freddie Dixon was quoted in the Washington Post as saying that his stepson did not know Draylen Mason, but he also noted that he’s long been close to the grandfather, dentist Norman Mason.

“It’s not just coincidental,” Dixon told the Post. “Somebody’s done their homework on both of us, and they knew what they were doing.”

Chase acknowledged Austin is on edge.

“It’s shaken up the community, not knowing what it’s all about, and not being able to put a finger on this,” he said.

Friday night hundreds of people gathered at East Austin College Prep where Mason studied music. A pastor prayed over the group as they walked to the youth's home, some holding white balloons while others played drums as they marched.

According to the Statesman, the gathering was sponsored by the Push for Peace Experience.

“Hate has been showing up and taking the lives of so many,” a description of the event was reported to say. “We plan to counter balance hate, fear, and anger with an event filled with love, peace, and healing.”

Wesley United Methodist has long been known as one of the leading predominately African-American churches of the area. It dates to 1865s, when it was established for blacks freed at the end of the Civil War.

The current sanctuary is on the National Register of Historic Places.

About the author: Hodges is a United Methodist News Service writer based in Dallas, TX.

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