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New details of police work in bomber case reveal why they deserve so much credit

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)

With the Austin bomber dead, we are learning more and more details of exactly how hard so many investigators worked to finally zero in on him.

And as that picture becomes clearer, it should remind us that we need to say a big Thank You to all of them.

As we first reported with these exclusively-obtained photos, one big break in the case was the surveillance video showing the bomber dropping off two packages at a FedEx office in Austin on Sunday night.

MUCH MORE TO THE PUZZLE

But it's clear now that the video was just one piece of evidence in a much more intricate puzzle they still couldn't solve.

The New York Times reported the pink construction gloves he was wearing in the video were the same type sold at Home Depot stores.

And they spotted a certain red vehicle in the parking lot.

So they started the tedious work of looking through hours of surveillance footage from Home Depot stores in the area and narrowing down possible suspects from all of those who drive similar vehicles in the Austin area.

At the same time, other investigators were trying to track down the source of the exact nails used in the bombings.

Congressman Michael McCaul, who represents part of Austin, told the Los Angeles Times that 'they went to every hardware store' in the area and finally found what they were looking for at a Home Depot in Round Rock.

And as they whittled down the list of possible suspects who drive the same type of vehicle they spotted, they had already started tailing suspects.

All the while, they were following up a myriad of tips called in from across the area, some of them about red vehicles.

'FATAL MISTAKE'

McCaul says Conditt made a 'fatal mistake' at a Home Depot visit because investigators were finally able to spot what looked like the guy from the FedEx in a wig walking out to a truck - and this time they could see the license plates.

The net was tightening, but they still had to find him.

Investigators obtained Conditt's cell phone number - but it had been turned off.

And as they filed formal bomb possession charges against him in a sealed indictment late Tuesday, in police lingo he had 'gone dark' with his digital footprint.

That's until early Wednesday morning.

When he turned on his cell phone again, they tracked it to a hotel in Round Rock.

But it wasn't over yet.

After the countless man-hours poring over surveillance camera footage, checking tips, reconstructing bombs, performing lab tests, making phone calls, walking through neighborhoods, conducting interviews and following up on thousands of calls, the other side of police work came into play.

The bravery.

THE DEADLY CONFRONTATION

Believing they had finally cornered a man responsible for two gruesome deaths, officers followed him as he drove his SUV from that hotel parking lot onto the access road of I-35 Wednesday morning.

When he pulled off the road and they approached his vehicle, Conditt detonated the last of the seven bombs they believe he made, killing himself and knocking down nearby officers, slightly injuring one of them.

But in the end, all that work and the risk of that final confrontation was worth it.

FBI Special Agent Christopher Combs said "If we had not found this man, there would have been more devices, and more innocent civilians would have been hurt and been killed."

We all needed them to find the bomber so we could feel safe again. Nerves were frayed. Suspicions were high. Stress was mounting.

We also needed them to solve the case to help feel more confident in law enforcement itself, especially after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida highlighted so many individual lapses.

So I think I speak for many of us in sending a big, heartfelt Thank You to everyone who works so hard trying to keep us safe every day.

Thanks for solving this case and helping restore our sense of peace and security, our faith in justice - and maybe just a little - our faith in each other.

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