The "hero" security guard credited with finding the backpack bomb at Centennial Olympic Park minutes before it exploded is now a focus of the investigation into the terrorist act, senior law enforcement officials said today.
Richard Jewell, 33, a former deputy sheriff, has been employed as a contract security guard for AT&T, the corporate sponsor of a large pavilion and music stage at Centennial Olympic Park where the blast occurred early Saturday, resulting in two deaths and 111 injuries.
Jewell has been interviewed several times by the FBI but has not been charged or arrested, and law enforcement agents today cautioned that he is one of several suspects they are investigating though "he is slightly elevated among the possibilities," one senior official said. "Is he the guy? We don't know. But we want to know more."
Jewell's specific job was to patrol the sound and light tower where the trio of crude pipe bombs surrounded by lethal nails and screws was placed.
A supervisor described Jewell as "a nice, attentive guy." In fact, Jewell was one of only two guards retained after the previous contract with another security company was canceled.
Interviewed outside his mother's house here this evening, he told reporters he did not plant the bomb. Federal agents were positioned outside the house here today.
Calls to the home went unanswered tonight.
"I'm sure they're investigating everyone in the area," Jewell told reporters. Asked specifically whether he did it, Jewell replied, "No, sir, I didn't do it."
Jewell has given dozens of media interviews in the last three days, including a lengthy one with The Washington Post on Monday in which the guard repeatedly played down his role in finding the bomb and quickly moving people away from it, minimizing deaths and injuries. But even as he proclaimed, "I'm no hero," Jewell sought out the spotlight to tell his story.
A senior law enforcement official in Washington said Jewell came to investigators' attention for several reasons: his interest in getting publicity for his story, his law enforcement training and his location at the spot where the bomb was found. Said one senior law enforcement official, "You always look at the guy who finds the package."
Some questions have also arisen about his background and previous jobs. One official in the Habersham County, Ga., sheriff's office where Jewell worked -- there is some confusion as to how long -- suggested that there had been a less than amicable parting of the ways.
A spokesman for Piedmont College, in Demorest, Ga., said tonight that Jewell worked there as a security guard for about a year.
Jewell was allowed to resign last May after he was stopping people on public highways and checking to see if they had been drinking, according to campus officials. Jewell also had been ticketed for speeding in the campus security car at an off-campus location. Piedmont College President Ray Cleere phoned investigators on Saturday after seeing Jewell on television, according to Scott Rawles, the college's director of development. Investigators followed up with phone calls and visits to the city over the weekend, according to Rawles.
A law enforcement official in Washington speculated that Jewell might fit the profile of the bomber as "a wannabe," a frustrated man on the fringes of law enforcement who might have set the device to then play the hero -- much as a volunteer firefighter might set a blaze, only to put it out. But there are several difficulties with this scenario. One is that if Jewell planted the bomb, he also placed himself in serious danger because he was near the device when it exploded. Another is that if Jewell also placed the warning call, he would have had to have done so about the same time he would have been placing the bomb -- several blocks from the phone.
Jewell was interviewed by the FBI this morning and spent several hours at the FBI Atlanta field office this evening before leaving with his lawyer. He returned to his mother's home a short time later. The lawyer, Watson Bryant, told reporters that the FBI had told him Jewell "was not a suspect, was not a subject, was not a target." The FBI would not comment on Bryant's statement, the Associated Press reported.
Law enforcement officials said investigators were examining videotape of the park before, during and after the bombing to see whether Jewell appeared in any of them and were comparing his voice to that of a caller who telephoned the 911 emergency number minutes before the blast to warn that a bomb had been placed in Centennial Olympic Park.
"There is a bomb in Centennial Park. You have 30 minutes," said the caller, who investigators have said sounded like a white American male with no regional or distinguishable accent.
But Jewell, in his interview with The Post and other media, displayed a slow, distinctly southern drawl.
Investigators said tonight that while Jewell has become a focus, they are continuing to follow up other leads and have other possible suspects.
FBI agents have questioned members of a right-wing militia group in Alabama, the Gadsden Minutemen, and found them unlikely suspects. Also, several men of Middle Eastern extraction in San Antonio were interviewed and their house searched after they returned from a trip to the Olympics, an FBI official in San Antonio said. Jewell was born in Danville, Va., and moved with his family to Georgia in 1969, according to Jeff Buchanan, assistant news editor of the Danville Register.
After stints as a deputy sheriff in Habersham County and as a security guard at Piedmont College, he came to Atlanta for the Olympics, Jewell said.
He was employed as a private guard for the past several months -- first at Borg Warner and then at Anthony Davis Associates, a Los Angeles-based security firm -- to provide AT&T with security at its sprawling corporate venues at Centennial Park. The telephone company had shifted from Borg Warner to Anthony Davis several weeks ago and only two private guards -- one of them being Jewell -- were kept on. AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel said that Jewell had been placed on paid leave today by Anthony Davis.
"I worked the 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift," Jewell told The Post on Monday. "I felt very responsible and I wanted to do a job that was professional and I had been there 21 straight nights." Jewell said that he was responsible for spotting the suspicious green backpack that later exploded and setting in motion the effort to get people to evacuate the scene as quickly as possible. But he offered that he was no hero.
"I just did my job," Jewell said in the interview. "Other people are saying what I did. I don't know if hero is a good word. I do that job to the best of my ability. And I did it with God's help.
Jewell said he had "a lot of friends" in the AT&T sound and light tower near where the bomb exploded. The five-story tower, covered in canvas and surrounded by a six-foot fence, was a secured environment -- holding not only equipment and technicians but seating for AT&T guests who would watch the music shows from some of the best seats in the park.
On the night of the blast, Jewell said Monday, "I was having fun and enjoying myself. It was a wonderfully calm night. The weather was perfect. It was cool. The people were having a very good time. They were dancing to the music of the band. There had been no problems . . . other than a little ruckus in front of the tower."
Jewell was one of several officers who tried to deal with a group of rowdy revelers beside the tower. Some of these youths were of interest to FBI agents probing the bombing.
Jewell said he had spoken to investigators several times about the bomb blast.
"I have talked to agents of both the state and federal agencies on numerous occasions about this incident and I assume we'll continue to do so until this terrible terrorist act is solved."
Asked for specifics about the bomb site and the suspicious package, Jewell said, "I've been advised by law enforcement of the investigation ongoing that I not go into any further details. I don't want to say something that would hurt the investigation."
During the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, a policeman was hailed as a hero for finding and disarming a pipe bomb on a bus carrying Turkish athletes.
He later admitted he planted the device to attract the attention of his superiors.
Then-Police Chief Daryl F. Gates said at the time that the officer was having marital problems and wanted to do something to cause his supervisors to take notice of him.
Reports that Jewell was under suspicion emerged this afternoon -- in a special edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper -- just hours after Centennial Park reopened in a grand ceremony. Staff writers Richard Leiby, Jim McGee, Michael D. Shear and Pierre Thomas in Washington, William Claiborne in Los Angeles and Sue Anne Pressley in Austin, Tex., contributed to this report. CAPTION: A day after the explosion, Richard Jewell, a security guard at Centennial Olympic Park, posed near the tower where the bomb was placed.