Former Olympic Park Guard Jewell Dies

The Associated Press
Thursday, August 30, 2007; 2:02 PM

ATLANTA -- Security guard Richard Jewell was initially hailed as a hero for spotting a suspicious backpack and moving people out of harm's way just before a bomb exploded, killing one and injuring 111 others. But within days, he was named as a suspect in the blast.

Though eventually cleared in the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing, Jewell, who was found dead Wednesday at 44, never recovered from the shame of being wrongly linked to the bombing in the news media. Finally, a year ago, he was again hailed as a hero.

Gov. Sonny Perdue commended Jewell at a bombing anniversary event. "This is what I think is the right thing to do," Perdue declared as he handed a certificate to Jewell.

Jewell said: "I never expected this day to ever happen. I'm just glad that it did."

It was one of his last good days. Jewell, who had diabetes and kidney problems and was recently on dialysis, was found dead in his west Georgia home. An autopsy Thursday showed Jewell had severe heart disease and essentially had a heart attack, Dr. Kris Sperry said. Jewell's diabetes contributed to the heart problems, Sperry said. He said toxicology tests would also be done because of the notoriety of the case.

After the Olympics, Jewell worked in various law enforcement jobs, including as a police officer in Pendergrass, Ga., where his partner was fatally shot in 2004 during the pursuit of a suspect.

As recently as last year, Jewell was working as a sheriff's deputy in west Georgia. He also gave speeches to college journalism classes about his experience.

For two days after the July 27, 1996, bombing, Jewell was hailed as a hero for shepherding people away from the suspicious backpack.

But on the third day, an unattributed report in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution described him as "the focus" of the investigation.

Other media, to varying degrees, also linked Jewell to the investigation and portrayed him as a loser and law-enforcement wannabe who may have planted the bomb so he would look like a hero when he discovered it later.

The AP, citing an anonymous federal law enforcement source, said after the Journal-Constitution report that Jewell was "a focus" of investigators, but that others had "not yet been ruled out as potential suspects."

Reporters camped outside Jewell's mother's apartment in the Atlanta area, and his life was dissected for weeks by the media. He was never arrested or charged, although he was questioned and was a subject of search warrants.

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© 2007 The Associated Press