Tuesday, July 27, 2010

July 27, 1996: Bombing Atlanta

ATLANTA - It was supposed to be a celebration, a time to honor and admire the best athletes in the world, a time for Atlanta to celebrate its status as an Olympic host city. And for the first few days, it was. The Olympics had already produced several memorable moments, from the opening ceremonies to the gymnastics competition. Everybody was having fun and enjoying the games.

And then the bomb went off.

In a way, it was lucky that only two people died on July 27, 1996, when the bomb exploded in the middle of Centennial Olympic Park as people were attending a concert. The bomb was designed to do significant damage, but it was tipped over sometime between its placement and its detonation, limiting its impact; one woman died after being struck by a nail, and a Turkish cameraman died of a heart attack while rushing to cover the explosion. It could have been worse.

A big reason why it wasn't worse was the quick thinking of security guard Richard Jewell. He discovered the bomb, called 911, and moved as many people to safety as he could before it exploded. For his efforts, Jewell was hailed as a hero ... until the FBI declared him a person of interest in the bombing. Though he was never officially charged, Jewell was extensively investigated and was hounded by media and authorities for months after the bombing, before finally being cleared.

After clearing Jewell, the FBI had no more suspects until a year later, when two abortion clinics and a lesbian club were bombed. The similarities between the four bombs led investigators to believe they were made by the same person. The second abortion clinic bombing - at which a police officer was killed - provided the clues needed to name Eric Robert Rudolph as a suspect.

Rudolph promptly disappeared into the southern Appaliachians of his youth and wasn't captured for five years. After his capture, he admitted to all four bombings to which he was tied. He said he bombed the Olympics because of its promotion of worldwide socialism, as evidenced by the fact that "Imagine" was the theme song of the games. He said he wanted to postpone the Olympics and embarrass the United States. At his sentencing, Rudolph read a statement where he apologized only to the victims of the Olympic bombing.

Rudolph's goal was to postpone the games, but he didn't succeed; they continued the next day and finished uninterrupted.

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