Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Eric Rudolph: Serial Bomber

The Olympics Bombed

When the Olympics came to Atlanta in the summer of 1996, the city was in a "feel-good frenzy," as a writer in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution put it. Hundreds of thousands of people, both locals and out-of-towners, were enjoying the "high-octane mixture of athletic excellence and world-class partying."

The Olympic games were held at Centennial Olympic Park, which was constructed specifically for the Olympics but would remain a permanent part of downtown Atlanta.

Only three years before in 1993 much of the area now comprising this magnificent recreational venue was covered by ugly, rundown buildings, some of them abandoned, and empty lots. The park is now lovely with its most prominent structure being the Fountain of Rings, the world's largest interactive fountain. Standing 85.5 feet in total length, it features five Olympic Rings, each of which is 25 feet in diameter, large enough so that two cars could easily be parked within each ring.

Other outstanding features of the park are the "Quilt Plazas" and the Water Gardens. Granite from each of the five continents represented in the Olympic Games is used in the park. There are eight light towers, each of them 65 feet all. A Donor Wall tells the history of the park's development. The Centennial Olympic Park boasts about 750 trees, 50,000 shrubs and 330,000 square feet of grass.

It was Friday, July 26, the ninth day of the 1996 Summer Games when the R&B band, Jack Mack and the Heart Attack, was performing a concert at the AT&T Global Village. Some 50,000 people were enjoying the music. Bill Bergman, the group's saxophone player and songwriter, recalled it as "one of the greatest events we've played. It was a huge crowd and it was a big party crowd and we were having a great time."

As Saturday morning dawned, the party spirit of the crowd was still going strong.

Location of bomb placed under bench
Location of bomb placed under bench

After 12:30 a.m., an alert security guard named Richard Jewell, 33, noticed an unattended green knapsack underneath a bench close to the sound tower. His suspicion aroused, the overweight, brown-haired, and ruddy complexioned Jewell pointed the bag out to Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) agent Tom Davis. Davis called in a report of a suspicious package. Then Jewell called his supervisor, Bob Ahring, and told him about the unattended backpack.

Military style backpack
Military style backpack

Federal explosives experts hurried to the area. Because wires and pipes were in the bag, there was good reason to suspect a bomb. They ordered that the area around the suspicious knapsack be immediately evacuated. They also called a crew from the Bomb Management Center at Dobbins Air Reserve Base.

Support for the possibility that the bag contained a bomb came in the form of an anonymous 911 call at about 12.58 a.m. by a person warning that such a device would explode in the Centennial Olympic Park in about a half-hour.

Phone bank, 911 call warned of bomb
Phone bank, 911 call warned of bomb

Security guards attempted to get the 75 to 100 people out of the area in front of the sound tower. This was not an easy task because quite a few of them had been drinking and could not understand why they were being made to leave. Some were belligerent and rude to those trying to ensure their safety.

Arial view of bomb site
Arial view of bomb site

Jewell was assigned to evacuate the sound tower itself. "Leave!" he told the workers there. Instantly understanding the urgency of the command, most freely exited as soon as they could. Later Jewell recalled his efforts to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I got 11 out safely," he said. "A few I had to push down the stairs."

The enormity of the crowd at the park meant that officials were reluctant to attempt clearing the entire place at once. A bomb scare could lead to a panic in which terrified people might trample each other to death, so workers concentrated on shooing people away from the questioned bag until the bomb experts could arrive.

Jewell stood in front of the entrance to the tower to keep the area clear.

Olympic Park bomb components
Olympic Park bomb components

At about 1:20 a.m., doubt about the contents of the knapsack was removed. The bomb inside it went off with a blue flash and a loud boom! Jewell and other workers were knocked to the ground, but many were soon up again and trying to assist the injured.

Some people thought the noise was part of the show. Vivian Davis thought so until she felt blood pouring from her head. "It was absolute chaos," Davis recalled of the explosion. "People running around, police running around." Robert Gee, from Scottsdale, Arizona, videotaped the blast. He too thought it "pyrotechnics" until he realized that it had been far too big for that.

Debris, nails, screws and shrapnel flew in every direction. People screamed in terror and pain.

Jim Bacon, a CNN producer who was present, said a "tremendous boom" sounded and then people "hit the deck." A German TV network was interviewing U.S. swimmer Janet Evans when the explosion took place.

Alice Hawthorne
Alice Hawthorne

Ambulances and police cars rushed to the scene. Since the Olympics came to town, Atlanta had stationed about 30,000 security personnel throughout the city. The park was soon closed and security guards prevented some media members from getting to the scene. Top priority had to be given to rescuing and treating the wounded. There were 111 people physically hurt. Alice Hawthorne, a 44-year-old married businesswoman from Albany, Georgia, was killed. Melih Uzunyol, a Turkish television cameraman, suffered a fatal heart attack while running to cover the destruction. His 14-year-old daughter was there and she was badly injured and required a long hospital stay.

 

 

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