Richard A. Jewell; Wrongly Linked to Olympic Bombing
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Richard A. Jewell, 44, a security guard portrayed as a hero, suspect and media victim of Atlanta's fatal Centennial Olympic Park bombing in 1996, was found dead Aug. 29 at his home in Woodbury, Ga.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation reportedly planned further tests to determine the cause of death. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted the Meriwether County coroner as saying that Mr. Jewell had diabetes and "had been going downhill."
In 1998, federal authorities charged anti-government extremist Eric Rudolph with the Atlanta park bombings.
After a five-year manhunt, Rudolph was captured. He pleaded guilty in 2005 to the Olympic Park attack in addition to bombings of women's clinics and a gay nightclub, receiving a life sentence.
Before Rudolph emerged as the chief suspect, Mr. Jewell was the target of media speculation and law enforcement investigations into the Atlanta park bombing. To many, he became a symbol of a life damaged by FBI leaks and news coverage laced with innuendo.
Mr. Jewell had an erratic career on the fringes of Georgia law enforcement before he was hired as a security guard for the Olympics. On July 27, 1996, he spotted a crudely made pipe bomb inside a green knapsack near a concert stage.
At first, he was praised for his decisive handling of the situation. He hurried people away and called for backup. His actions were credited with reducing casualties; one woman died, and 111 people were injured at the scene.
Within three days, Mr. Jewell's status as a hero was challenged after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called him "the focus" of the FBI investigation into the bombing. The FBI neither arrested nor formally charged Mr. Jewell, but the scrutiny that descended on him was invasive and crude.
One television outlet featured an interview with a psychologist who said Mr. Jewell resembled a "lone bomber." On NBC, Tom Brokaw said, "The speculation is that the FBI is close to 'making the case,' in their language. They probably have enough on him to arrest him right now . . . but you always want to have enough to convict him as well."
The New York Post called him a "fat, failed former sheriff's deputy."
In October 1996, the FBI cleared Mr. Jewell. In a news conference, he called his 88 days under suspicion a nightmare for him and his mother, with whom he lived near the Olympic park.
"In its rush to show the world how quickly it could get its man, the FBI trampled on my rights as a citizen," he said. "In its rush for the headline that the hero was the bomber, the media cared nothing for my feelings as a human being. In their mad rush to fulfill their own personal agendas, the FBI and the media almost destroyed me and my mother."