On this day in 1996, a bomb was detonated at the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, GA during the 1996 Summer Olympics. One person was killed by the blast. Another died of a heart attack at the scene.
The bomb, actually three pipe bombs in a military-style pack, was discovered by security guard Richard Jewell. Jewell managed to clear most of the spectators away from the area before the detonation. In addition to the two fatalities, 111 people were injured.
Jewell was hailed as a hero. At first. Within three days of the bombing, the FBI leaked to several media outlets that Jewell was a “person of interest” in the investigation. Jewell was painted in the media as a failed wannabe cop who planted the bomb in order to play hero. NBC talking head Tom Brokaw said, “The speculation is that the FBI is close to making the case. They probably have enough to arrest him right now, probably enough to prosecute him, but you always want to have enough to convict him as well. There are still some holes in this case.” As it turns out, there were more holes than there was case.
By October, the FBI had given up on Jewell for lack of evidence. The US Attorney went so far as to send Jewell a letter informing him that he had been cleared of any wrongdoing related to the bombing.
Jewell sued the media outlets that had libeled him. He reached settlements with NBC, CNN, the New York Post, and his former employer, Piedmont College. A lawsuit against the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was dismissed in 2007 after Jewell died at the age of 44.
After clearing Jewell, the investigation into the bombing stalled out until early 1997, when two more bombings occurred in the Atlanta area. While investigating the bombings of an abortion clinic and a lesbian nightclub, investigators noted similarities between those bombs and the one detonated at the Olympics. Evidence from the 1997 bombings led the feds to a new suspect: Eric Robert Rudolph.
In May 1998, Rudolph was added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. He was believed to be hiding somewhere in the Appalachians. Multiple searches were unable to locate him. He was finally arrested in May 2003 in Murphy, NC. Officer Jeffery Postell spotted him behind a Save-a-lot store at four in the morning. Suspecting a burglary in progress, Postell arrested Rudolph, who was unarmed.
In exchange for not receiving a death sentence, and for revealing the location of a large cache of dynamite, Eric Rudolph pleaded guilty to all charges. He is currently incarcerated at the federal supermax prison in Florence, CO. He will never be eligible for parole.
TruTV – Eric Rudolph: Serial Bomber
Wikipedia – Centennial Olympic Park Bombing
Wikipedia – Eric Rudolph
Wikipedia – Richard Jewell
Washington Post – Richard A. Jewell; Wrongly Linked to Olympic Bombing