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'I am not the Olympic Park bomber'

Richard Jewell

Jewell tearfully condemns media, FBI for his treatment

October 28, 1996
Web posted at: 1:50 p.m. EST (1830 GMT)

In this story

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Richard Jewell, the security guard cleared of suspicion that he planted a bomb at Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park accused the media and the FBI Monday of "almost destroying me and my mother."

"I am not the Olympic park bomber," Jewell said in brief and occasionally tearful remarks during a news conference. "I am a man who has lived 88 days afraid of being arrested for a crime I did not commit."

The FBI, Jewell said, trampled on his rights as an individual "in its rush to show the world it could get its man," while the media "cared nothing about my feelings as a human being" in its rush to get the story behind the bombing. The blast shocked Atlanta and the world at the height of the Olympic Games.

Jewell at the news conference
I am not the Olympic Park bomber . . . icon (16 sec./168K AIFF or WAV sound)
Part of my nightmare ended . . . icon (16 sec./173K AIFF or WAV sound)
All I did was my job . . . icon (14 sec./152K AIFF or WAV sound)

Jewell, at first hailed as a hero for his actions on the night of the explosion, was later thrust into a different light when the FBI suspected that he had set off the bomb to give himself an opportunity to be a hero.

(32 sec./1.2MB QuickTime movie)movie icon

But Jewell said Monday that he was not seeking a hero's status.

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Jewell's statement (10 min. 25 sec.)

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  • "I set out to do my job," he said, "and to do it right."

    Jewell, who said he would try to return to a law enforcement career, shed tears when thanking his mother, Barbara, for her support during the three-month investigation. Describing that period, he said, "I felt like a hunted animal, constantly being followed, waiting to be killed."

    He also choked with emotion when describing the scene after the pipe bomb explosion.

    "I saw fellow officers and friends flying through the air," he said. "I saw people on the ground hurt -- badly hurt."

    The real heroes, he said, were the bomb technicians who tried to dismantle the bomb, and rescue personnel who frantically worked to treat the wounded.

    The reports in the media about him -- which said he fit the profile of a bomber, were "all a lie," Jewell said. He admonished the news media to, "Let the headline be based on the facts -- don't shape the facts to fit the headline."

    FBI gives its reasons

    The FBI released a document Monday indicating that its suspicions about Jewell were aroused by comments from friends, former co-workers and law enforcement agents who worked alongside him at the Olympic Park.

    The affidavit, used to obtain the search warrant for Jewell's property, included statements that Jewell had been an over- zealous campus cop prone to writing traffic tickets, and that he had been away from his post for 10 minutes on the night of the bombing. Sources said, however that the security guard had gone to the restroom during that time. The affidavit also said Jewell had received bomb training.

    Explosion cast shadow over Olympics

    Explosion

    Jewell was thrust into the national spotlight in the early hours after the July 27 bomb blast by witnesses who said he had spotted the abandoned knapsack, alerted police, and begun to evacuate the area before the explosion.

    With thousands of visitors in the downtown Atlanta park, Jewell was widely credited with helping keep the casualty toll down by his quick action. One Albany, Georgia, woman died in the explosion, and more than 100 people were injured by shrapnel and nails that spewed from the bomb. A Turkish cameraman suffered a heart attack and died while rushing to the scene.

    But three days after the national media hailed him as a hero, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a report naming the security guard as the FBI's leading suspect. Without naming its sources, the newspaper said that Jewell fit the agency's profile of the bomber -- a former law enforcement officer seeking the spotlight as a hero.

    For weeks, reporters and camera crews camped outside Jewell's Atlanta apartment, capturing every move that he -- and the FBI -- made.

    Jewell waiting outside The crews filmed Jewell waiting on a stairwell during an intensive FBI search of his apartment on July 31, watching agents cart several boxes into vans. Newspapers carried reports that Jewell was a former police officer at a north Georgia college who had been asked to resign for an "over- zealous" attitude.

    The FBI claimed to be investigating other suspects as well, but did not reveal their identities. And, despite the close scrutiny of Jewell and his environment, agents never released any evidence linking him to the bombing.

    Jewell hired attorneys, submitted to a private polygraph test that examiners said exonerated him, and agreed to an extensive interview with FBI agents. His attorneys demanded an apology from the FBI, asking that their client be cleared of suspicion.

    Finally, on Saturday -- 12 weeks after the bombing -- U.S. Attorney Kent Alexander took the unusual step of sending a letter to Jewell's attorney Jack Martin, saying that the former security guard was not a suspect in the bombing.

    "In this case, (Jewell and his mother, with whom he lived) have regrettably also endured highly unusual and intense publicity that was neither designed nor desired by the FBI, and in fact interfered with the investigation," Alexander said in a statement accompanying the letter. "The public should bear in mind that Richard Jewell has at no time been charged with any crime in connection with the bombing."

    "This is the way the government apologizes," Jewell's attorney Lin Wood said Saturday. "I view this letter as the government's apology to Richard Jewell."

    "Obviously he is relieved," said Wood. "At the same time I think he realizes that this is just one step along the road. This ends one part of his nightmare."

    Lawsuits in the future

    Wood

    Jewell's attorneys have made no secret of their intentions to sue for damages in the wake of the three months of media scrutiny that followed their client. Wood said that lawsuits against the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) and NBC News would definitely be filed.

    "(The AJC) broke the story and then went out over several days, and we think very falsely and unfairly portrayed him not as a suspect but as the bomber," Wood said. "NBC and Tom Brokaw we intend to sue because on July 30 you had Tom Brokaw on national TV saying 'there's probably enough to arrest him, there's probably enough to prosecute him.' Those things simply were false."

    But Ron Martin, the editor of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, said reporting by his morning and afternoon newspapers was both "accurate and appropriate."

    He said the public "had a right to know when authorities' doubts about such a prominent figure in the bombing story led them to suspect him. Our reporting accurately pinpointed when those doubts turned Richard Jewell into the focus of the investigation."

    NBC News said it too "accurately reported what we were learning from law enforcement officials. ... We also reported that holes remained in the case and that Mr. Jewell was not officially a suspect."

    Wood would not rule out the possibility of lawsuits against the FBI or individual agents, and said Jewell had not been offered any book or movie deals that he considered "legitimate." Jewell, he said, is probably not ready to accept such a deal, but "I do think that, in whatever form, the Richard Jewell story needs to be told."

    FBI refocuses investigation

    With Jewell out of the picture, investigators were scrambling to find witnesses and chase leads that may have gone cold while they focused on Jewell. The motive for the bombing was a top priority, sources told CNN, with agents looking at suspects who may have been angry with Olympic officials or even at the band that was performing in the park at the time of the explosion.

    Also under consideration were disgruntled security guards or Olympic vendors who lost money during the Games, the sources said.

    Federal agents are also trying to determine where the bomb's individual components were purchased, and are still investigating the 911 call warning of the bomb's placement.

    "I'm confident in our ability to solve this crime," said FBI agent Woody Johnson.

    But, sources told CNN, some investigators are now less than optimistic that they can pick up a trail three months old and successfully close the case.

     
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