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Multi-format team dominates coverage of Austin serial bombing

Officials investigate the scene where a suspect in a series of bombing attacks in Austin blew himself up as authorities closed in, Wednesday, March 21, 2018, in Round Rock, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

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Three previous bombings had put Austin on edge for weeks, triggering a manhunt involving 500-plus federal agents and prompting residents to flood 911 operators with calls about suspicious-looking packages on doorsteps. Reporters soon inundated Texas’ capital.

When emergency personnel reported another explosion late on a Sunday night, Austin correspondent Will Weissert quickly called sources and prepared a NewsAlert reporting that the blast was a bomb. Newsman Paul J. Weber rushed to the scene and soon confirmed the same bomber had struck a fourth time, this time using a sophisticated tripwire.

During continuous coverage across all formats for the next nearly 96 hours,Weber and Houston video journalist John Mone spoke exclusively to the grandfather of a bombing victim,reporting that the latest explosive was full of nails – a detail that drove other outlets’ coverage. Before dawn the following morning, a bomb exploded inside a package at a FedEx processing center and Weissert got early FBI confirmation that it was related to the previous blasts. Weber scored another scoop when U.S. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul confirmed surveillance cameras caught the bomber dropping off FedEx packages and that he likely would be caught soon – a prediction that proved correct within hours.

As authorities closed in, the suspected bomber blew himself up around 2 a.m. the following day,and Austin newsman Jim Vertuno was among the first reporters on the scene interviewing witnesses and the bomber’s neighbors. Photographer Eric Gay scaled a tree to make unique pictures of the aftermath. Correspondent Emily Schmall drove in from Fort Worth and tracked down two more exclusives: That the bomber’s roommate was black,undermining theories that racism was a motivation, and that the roommate was detained by SWAT teams hours before the bomber himself died.

Throughout the week,AP also produced nuanced,multi-platform reporting on how police track cell phones, shipping facilities screen packages and how the bombings shook Austin’s chill attitude.

After the bomber’s death,Weber and correspondent Ryan J. Foley,on loan from Iowa City, had a tight and timely piece on how police mishandled the manhunt repeatedly – despite numerous accolades when it was finally over. Vertuno and Weissert’s story on the bomber’s death made 19 front pages nationwide,Gay’s pictures dominated visual reports and other outlets repeatedly cited scoops by Weber,Mone,Schmall and Foley.

For their tireless and aggressive efforts to break news by mining sources,searching records and knocking on countless doors,journalists Will Weissert,Jim Vertuno,Paul Weber,Eric Gay,John L. Mone, Emily Schmall and Ryan Foley share this week’s Best of the States.

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