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‘Hero’ Security Guard Denies Setting Olympic Park Bomb

July 31, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ He was a hero a day ago, but today Richard Jewell is under a shadow of suspicion.

Jewell, a security guard credited with saving lives before the bombing at Centennial Olympic Park, emerged Tuesday as the prime target of the FBI’s investigation into the bombing.

Mobbed by reporters as he returned home from FBI questioning, he emphatically denied setting the bomb. ``I’m innocent. I didn’t do it,″ he insisted before going into his Atlanta apartment.

As early as Tuesday morning, Jewell, a beefy 33-year-old with a checkered law enforcement career, was appearing on NBC’s ``Today″ show to recount his heroic deeds.

By afternoon, his name was splashed across Page 1 of an extra edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: ``FBI suspects `hero’ guard may have planted bomb.″

A federal law enforcement official, speaking in Washington on condition of anonymity, said Jewell had emerged as the ``leading candidate″ in the FBI’s investigation.

``He looks good now, but there have been no arrests and the investigation is still continuing,″ the Washington official said.

One woman died and 111 were injured in the blast early Saturday, which indirectly contributed to the heart-attack death of a Turkish cameraman rushing to the scene.

Jewell’s lawyer, Watson Bryant, asserted the guard’s innocence: ``I can tell you that I spoke with agent Don Johnson of the FBI, who said that Richard Jewell was not a suspect, was not a subject, was not a target.″

An FBI spokesman here, Paul Miller, would say only that investigators ``have been questioning many individuals.″

DeKalb County police briefly spoke with Jewell at his door twice late Tuesday night. It was not clear why they went to the door or what was said.

Bryant returned to Jewell’s apartment around 2 a.m. today and stayed about 20 minutes. Asked if he expected police to search the apartment, he said, ``I assume they will if they have probable cause. But I don’t think they do.″

Shortly after 8 a.m., three women left his apartment, carrying a large duffle bag and a couple of plastic shopping bags. They declined to answer questions or identify themselves.

Jewell works for a Bloomington, Calif., security company, Anthony Davis & Associates, which was hired by AT&T to provide guards for its pavilion at Centennial Olympic Park.

The park in downtown Atlanta has emerged as the heart of the Summer Olympics, attracting tens of thousands of people daily. It reopened Tuesday morning for the first time since the explosion and was instantly jammed.

Through the day, a makeshift memorial grew near the bomb site, where visitors placed flowers and flags _ American and Turkish, among others.

``It’s just good to be here, and this really touches me,″ Sabrina Churchill, an Atlanta investment manager, said after laying a bouquet of flowers on the ground. She brushed back tears.

``I just felt like this was my park _ it was in my back yard _ and it just hurt so bad that this happened.″

Jewell has been credited with _ and has taken credit for _ spotting an unattended olive-drab knapsack near the AT&T pavilion. Bomb experts quickly determined that the knapsack contained a crude pipe bomb, and while police were clearing the area, the bomb exploded.

About 25 minutes before the explosion, a man had called 911 from a pay phone three blocks from the park and said a bomb would go off in 30 minutes. The FBI has said it assumes the caller was the bomber, but it hasn’t ruled out the possibility that more than one person was involved.

Ron Leidelmeyer, an NBC technician who was injured by the blast, said he saw Jewell before the bombing and believes it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for him to have planted the bomb and made the 911 call.

Leidelmeyer said that by his accounting, which he based on log books kept by an NBC station, he saw Jewell and a police officer looking at the knapsack at about 12:53 a.m.

Jewell, he recalled, walked over to him and said the police ``didn’t like the looks of it.″ He remembered Jewell adding: ``It gets the adrenalin flowing a little bit.″

The 911 call was made at 12:58 a.m. ``He had a 5-minute window to do this, and it’s just not possible,″ Leidelmeyer said.

Jewell may have attracted the FBI’s attention because of his actions after the bombing, when he approached media outlets to seek publicity for his actions.

Experts say one profile of a lone bomber is that of a former police officer, military man or aspiring police officer who seeks to become a hero.

``The only thing I wish we could have done was got everybody out of the area,″ Jewell said in a TV interview Saturday. ``I just hope we catch the people that did it.″

His lawyer, Bryant, says Jewell retained him because he ``was besieged by a lot of people that had an interest″ in his hero role. ``Not being experienced in handling situations like this, he called me up to represent him in the event someone wanted to talk to him or sign a contract or something of this sort,″ he said this morning on the NBC ``Today″ show.

The Washington law enforcement official said the audiotape of the 911 call and Jewell’s subsequent interview tapes would be compared. Videotapes of Jewell also will be analyzed by FBI specialists who develop psychological profiles, he said.

The source hastened to add, however, that others have not yet been ruled out as potential suspects, including two men from San Antonio who were questioned Monday night.

Jewell resigned as a Habersham County deputy last year after he wrecked a new patrol car and was about to be shifted to jailer duty, county Chief Deputy Hugh Whitner said.

He then worked for less than a year as a security guard at Piedmont College in Demorest, about 70 miles northeast of Atlanta.

The college president, Ray Cleere, said Tuesday he heard Jewell on television after the bombing and decided to share his misgivings about his ex-employee with investigators, telling them Jewell had been overly enthusiastic about his police duties and liked the limelight. He had been forced to resign, Cleere said.

___

EDITOR’S NOTE _ Associated Press writer Michael J. Sniffen in Washington contributed to this story.

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