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Sources: Arrest in Olympic bombing could occur within days


July 27, 1996
Web posted at: 7:45 p.m. EDT

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Investigators are making progress in their search for suspects in the bombing early Saturday in Centennial Olympic Park that killed one person and injured more than 100. In fact, sources told CNN, there could be an arrest within days.

Underground Atlanta, a popular shopping mall and tourist attraction not far from Centennial Park, was evacuated after a suspicious package was found outside a restaurant in the complex. A bomb disposal squad was on the scene and authorities were using a remote-control robot to investigate the package while police kept people at a distance. It turned out to be an iron with a cord and thermometer wrapped around it -- quite harmless, after all.

Sources say focus of Park bombing on domestic terrorism


The sources said the focus of the Centennial Park bombing is on domestic terror -- either, in their words, a "nutcase," or someone with a possible militia connection.

Investigators say they have a lot of material to work with. At least one of the three pipe bombs that were taped together to cause the explosion is intact. In addition, there was a timing device that may help link the bomb to its makers. The device used is said to be more sophisticated than was at first believed.

CNN has learned that investigators have a number of videotapes and snapshots and are studying pictures from surveillance cameras that ring the park.

Among the other promising leads: An eyewitness who saw four white men dressed in black. They were reportedly acting rowdy and drawing attention to themselves.

In the days before the bombing, federal officials told CNN that a group of skinheads with a reputation for violence was being monitored. Officials now say that is one of the leads being pursued.

Other evidence includes the 911 tape from the warning call made shortly before the explosion. Officials said the caller appeared to be a "white male with an indistinguishable (American) accent" and did not claim to speak for any group.

The FBI asks anyone who has information about the bombing to call 1-800-905-1514.

Olympic events will go on

Saturday's events of the Olympic Games "will go on," said Francois Carrard, director general of the International Olympic Committee. (254K AIFF or WAV sound)

sound icon (318K AIFF or
WAV sound)

"As I speak now, everything is ready," he said. There was no word on when Centennial Olympic Park would reopen, but authorities said it would be no earlier than Sunday.

The IOC and the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games said that all Olympic flags would be flown at half staff during events Saturday, and that all venues would observe a moment of silence in the memory of the bomb's victims. In addition, the Turkish flag will fly at half staff in memory of cameraman Melih Uzunyol, who suffered a heart attack while covering the explosion and died en route to the hospital.

Bomb went off 23 minutes after call

Tom Davis of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation told reporters Saturday that the explosion occurred about 23 minutes after the warning call.

"After we did an assessment of the situation, the explosion occurred -- just a powerful tremendous explosion. I do not know how to explain it other than that," Davis said.

Davis said he noticed a package at the park after he was summoned there by a security guard for AT&T who was concerned about some drunk revelers in front of AT&T Tower.

"I noticed that the (drunk) individuals had moved on," Davis said. "He (the AT&T security guard) pointed to a package under a bench in front of the tower and told me that one of them must have left it there."

Davis said he told the guard that they would try to find the package's owner, and if they failed to do so, would treat the parcel as a suspicious package. "And that is what we did," he said.

FBI Agent Woody Johnson gave a similar account of what happened before the bombing.

Johnson said that a police officer called to investigate an "unruly" segment of the audience attending a late night concert at the AT&T Global Village stage, "noticed a suspicious package."

The officer called for bomb investigators, who began to evacuate the area.


"Before they were able to completely clear the area, the device went off," Johnson said.

Mark Smith, an audio technician working in a tower where engineers control concert sound, told CNN that the suspicious package was discovered leaning against the tower by an AT&T security guard.

"He didn't like the way it looked, and informed the police," Smith said. "They didn't like the way it looked either, and cleared the area."

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Smith said that policeman near the explosion point appeared to be the worst injured. He praised the quick action of security and police personnel, saying that they very likely kept the number and severity of injuries at a minimum.

Park is vulnerable to attack


The 21-acre (8.5 hectare) Centennial Olympic Park, ringed by the pavilions of several Olympic sponsors, is packed daily with visitors making their way to nearby venues as well as Atlanta residents taking in the Olympic experience. It has been the site of nightly concerts.

Officials said that the open facility caused concern about security, but that the site was considered important to the spirit of the games. A.D. Frazier, chief operating officer of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, said the bombing would not change that.

"I don't think there's any act, however heinous, that could destroy these Olympic Games," he said.

Johnson said that the FBI has now cordoned off the park. The park will reopen, at least in part, when the investigation is complete.

Johnson also said that the FBI had no information on other explosive devices, but gave Olympic venues a thorough inspection before Saturday's events began.

sound icon "We will consider (the bombing) an act of terrorism until we have information to the contrary," he said. (191K AIFF or WAV sound)

sound icon The bombing, Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell said on CNN, "cast a long shadow over these Games and this city, which had been so joyous." Campbell added that Centennial Park would be reopened when investigators had finished their inspection of the area. (96K AIFF or WAV sound)

sound icon Campbell lauded the "phenomenal response" of law enforcement in the park to the crisis, saying that as bad as the situation was, "it could have been much worse." (224K AIFF or WAV sound)

Security combed the area around the park early Saturday, looking for evidence. Police also inspected tracks and stations of Atlanta's public transportation system, but MARTA trains were still running.

Law enforcement agents told CNN there were nails, shrapnel and pieces of wood strewn all over the scene. But one official said the situation was "not as bad as you would expect, because the explosive device was very crude."

The pieces of the bomb have been sent to a state law enforcement lab for examination.

Police also are developing film from tourists and cameramen on the scene in the search for possible suspects and leads. At the same time agents with the FBI, Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Atlanta police are interviewing possible witnesses from the park.

One law enforcement source told CNN that some of those witnesses are "generating leads."

Witnesses initially thought it was part of show

The rock band Jack Mack and the Heart Attack had just finished a song when the bomb went off, about 1:25 a.m. EDT.

"It felt like a concussion mortar, as we call it in the business," said audio technician Smith.

Robert Gee, a visitor from San Francisco, video-taped the explosion -- a ground-shaking boom, a bright flash, and a poof of smoke that stretched above the 40-foot sound tower next to it.

Witnesses near the explosion site dove to the ground and ran for cover, while those farther away stood bewildered until police began to evacuate the park. Most of those injured were hit by flying shrapnel.

The victim who died at the scene of the bombing was 44-year- old tourist Alice Jane Hawthorne of Albany, Georgia, according to family members. Relatives said she apparently had massive head injuries from the explosion. Hawthorne's young daughter, believed to be about 7 years old, was injured.


"Some people looked really messed up," said Desmond Edwards of Atlanta. "There were rivers of blood."

A German film crew was interviewing U.S. swimmer Janet Evans at the time of the explosion. Video of that interrupted interview shows Evans and the German interviewer scrambling for safety.

CNN producer Jim Bacon said he heard a "tremendous boom" and everybody "hit the deck."

Security and police personnel were quickly on the scene, and ambulances arrived to transport the wounded to five area hospitals. The status of the injured ranged from very serious to very minor.

The Red Cross has set up a hotline for family members looking for information. That number is 404-685-8285.

Games will go on

Both Atlanta and International Olympic officials said that the games will go on as planned Saturday, although security would be upgraded at all venues. Athletes have been briefed on the situation, and most appeared ready to get back to the competition.

Swimmer Evans said that she thought security was better in Atlanta than it had been in her previous three Olympics.

But one member of the U.S. men's basketball "Dream Team" was seen with packed bags and carrying two small children shortly after the explosion. Karl Malone told a reporter he was leaving the city, but Craig Miller of USA Basketball said that Malone was only getting his family out of the downtown hotel where they were staying.

Several athletes from Cuba and Argentina were reported to be in the park at the time of the explosion, but none have been reported among the injured.

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