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‘Park Has More Meaning Now,’ Visitor Says at Emotional Reopening

July 31, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ They sang, they hugged, they cried. They carried flowers for the victims. They squealed with glee in the jets of a fountain.

With every emotion, thousands greeted the reopening of Centennial Olympic Park on Tuesday, three days after a bomb killed one person and injured 111, and shut the Summer Games’ most popular crossroads.

Polly Warren experienced all of those feelings. A native Atlantan, she explained why she came to the reopened park _ other than to let her daughter Whitney play in its fountain, a magnet for kids:

``It’s a very Southern thing to invite people into your home. And something happened to our invited guests,″ she said. ``That’s why I’m back.″

Cheers erupted when Olympic chief Billy Payne formally declared the park open again at the end of a solemn ceremony. People swayed to the triumphant sounds of a soloist and choir reprising a featured song from the games’ opening ceremony.

Andrew Young, a former Atlanta mayor and U.N. ambassador, said in a memorial speech that if not for the tragedy, ``We might have taken this joy for granted.″

He added: ``We will define the future ... not bitterness, not hatred.″

Amid doubled security _ with uniformed agents visible everywhere and plainclothes officers also conspicuous _ many agreed with Young, saying they showed up to make a symbolic statement for cooperation between people and against terror.

``We have to live hand-in-hand,″ said Harry Wibowo, an Indonesian weightlifting coach.

Peter Leyra of Orange County, Calif., held up a handwritten sign saying, ``The Games WILL Go On!″

``It didn’t destroy us. Look at all the people here,″ said Leyra, who was in the park shortly before the blast at 1:25 a.m. Saturday. ``The park has more meaning now.″

Some placed the reopening in contexts far removed from the Olympics.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who represents Atlanta and worked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was thinking back 30 years.

``This reminds me of another period of my life, in the early days of the civil rights movement when we saw the bombings of churches and schools and even private homes and we used to sing a song, `Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,″ Lewis said.

He termed the park ceremony ``massive nonviolent resistance.″

Ron Leidelmeyer’s reflections went back to Saturday, when he was among those wounded _ hit in the back and neck by shrapnel from the crude pipe bomb that exploded 40 feet from him.

``When I saw the proximity of where I was ... it was very chilling. It’s very obvious it wasn’t my time,″ said the free-lance TV technician.

Though security was heightened, with a police helicopter beating overhead during a ceremonial moment of silence and every bag checked by a phalanx of guards, most accepted it with good humor.

``They want you to feel secure,″ said Geny Duehr of Dubuque, Iowa, who had her picture taken between two camouflage-clad Air Force airmen, part of a multi-agency contingent.

But as 4-year-old Rebecca Quasebarth passed through the checks, she balked, clinging to a plastic change purse with 12 cents inside.

Her mother, Sara, explained: ``She was afraid they were going to take them.″

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