Explosion at Olympic Kills at Least One, Injures 111
Jul. 27, 1996
ATLANTA (AP) _ Terrorism struck the Olympics for the first time since Munich in 1972 when a pipe bomb exploded today in the heart of the Summer Games. One woman was killed and more than 100 people wounded, and a Turkish TV cameraman died rushing to the scene.
A 911 call warning of the blast was received 18 minutes before the bomb went off, not allowing enough time to fully evacuate the park, according to a law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity.
Officers on the scene had already spotted a suspicious bag but couldn't clear the area in time.
``We will consider it an act of terrorism until information should arrive to the contrary,'' FBI Special Agent Woody Johnson said.
As in Munich, when the Olympics continued even after terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes, officials in Atlanta said they would not halt the games today.
``The games will go on,'' said Francois Carrard, director general of the International Olympic Committee.
And so they did, beginning with a moment of silence and the lowering of flags to half-staff at all venues on the day of the glamour event of the games: the 100-meter dash.
At Lake Lanier, where rowing finals were being held today, soldiers carrying machine guns patrolled the grounds. Soldiers _ rather than the usual Olympic security _ were manning the security checkpoints.
The bomb went off at about 1:25 a.m. near a sound and light tower at Centennial Olympic Park, where thousands of revelers were celebrating at an open-air, free concert.
There was a call to 911 in Atlanta warning of the blast a few minutes before the pipe bomb went off, according to a a Justice Department official, who requested anonymity. But the call came so close to the explosion that there was not enough time to notify police in time, the Justice official said. The FBI was getting the tape of the call.
The Justice Department official said the 911 call came from a pay telephone about two blocks from the explosion. The caller spoke ``in a calm voice,'' the official said.
The call, apparently from a man, was received at 1:07 a.m. and the caller said only that a bomb would explode in Centennial Park in 30 minutes, a law enforcement official said.
``I felt the ground shake,'' said Desmond Edwards, an Atlanta schoolteacher. ``Some people looked really messed up. There were rivers of blood.''
``I thought it was fireworks, like a big boom, and I saw three guys laying in the street,'' said Terry Tyson. ``They all had leg injuries. Blood was running down the street. It was horrible.''
Johnson said the park and all Olympic venues would be ``sanitized.''
Justice Department spokeswoman Carole Florman there have been a number of calls since the blast alerting authorities to abandoned or suspicious parcels in Atlanta. Each parcel was being checked, but none proved to be explosive so far, Florman said shortly before 8 a.m.
``Since the Games began, about 120 abandoned or suspicious parcels have been picked up and NOT one of them has contained explosives,'' Florman said.
The bomb detonated after authorities began evacuating an area of the park near the tower where a police officer had noticed a suspicious package, Johnson said.
``Before they were able to clear people from the area, the device went off,'' he said.
FBI spokesman Jay Spadafore said the package was in a trash can. He would not provide more details. Florman said the blast was caused by a pipe bomb.
Johnson said he had no information on any other bombs or threats in the area, but ``we have some indication that there may be some suspicious packages, but we will sort those out quickly.'' CNN reported that authorities had found two other bombs in the park after the explosion.
Police cordoned off the area for several blocks around where the explosion occurred, saying the security net was to protect bystanders from further explosions.
President Clinton, who has been in Atlanta twice during the Olympics, was awakened and told of the blast, White House spokesman David Johnson said.
Clinton later called the attack ``an evil act of terror'' and ``an act of cowardice that stands in sharp contrast to the courage of the Olympic athletes.'' He said new security measures would be taken.
Billy Payne, president of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, said he had never heard of any recommendations to tighten security at the park and doubted that he would have considered them anyway.
``I would have probably interpreted that in the context of can you perfectly secure all public places, and the answer, obviously, is not,'' he said. ``People have to have some freedom of movement and while we all regret this incident, I don't think it was a consequence of doing other than what we should have done.''
Johnson said 111 people were injured, including 11 who required hospitalization. All of those hospitalized were in stable condition, he said.
State-run Turkish Radio and Television said their cameraman, Melih Uzunyol, died of a heart attack after the explosion while rushing to the park. He was about 40 years old, a TRT official said.
WSB-TV quoted journalist Zafer Akyol, a friend of Uzunyol's, as saying Uzunyol had a history of heart problems.
Atlanta Fire Department Lt. Edwin Higginbotham identified the other victim as Alice S. Hawthorne, 44, of Albany, Ga.
Hospitals said they were treating more than 100 people, including some who appeared to have been hit by shrapnel. A doctor said he saw a lot of fractures and one person with a finger blown off.
At the time of the blast, the band Jack Mack and the Heart Attack was playing on the park's main stage.
``The security guard found a knapsack or nylon bag and didn't like the way it looked,'' said Mark Smith, who was mixing the music for the concert in a light and sound tower where the guard was stationed. ``The police started clearing the area. I was 50 feet away and there was a policeman about 30 feet away from it.
``I saw the cop right in front of me take a huge piece of shrapnel. He got hit bad. One guy threw a towel on his head. I poured water on him to wash away some of the blood. He was lying face down and he wasn't moving. I saw 10 pockets of people hit by what appears to be shrapnel.''
The park is in the center of downtown Atlanta, within walking distance of three major Olympic venues. While people pass through metal detectors at all Olympic venues, anyone is free to walk through the park.
Throughout the Olympics, about 30,000 police officers, military personnel and private security guards are in place to protect athletes and visitors. It is the largest peacetime security force in the nation's history.
After the loud explosion, police swept the area with bomb-sniffing dogs and blocked off all streets around the park, as dozens of ambulances, fire trucks and police cars lined up to care for the injured and keep everyone else out.
At least 10 athletes from Cuba and Argentina stood a few feet away from the blast, said Sheryl Fillmore, a friend of a Cuban judo competitor, who did not see any injured athletes.
No American athletes were injured in the attack, U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Mike Moran said. Most have been living in the athletes village about a mile from the bombing, though the Dream Team basketball players were staying in a hotel just a block from Centennial Park.
``Our athletes in the village and elsewhere are planning to go forward in the competitions, yes,'' Moran said. ``Obviously, there's been a heightened security activity, especially in the athletes in village.
``The athletes in the village all were up and watching on television at one time or another. Word spread fairly quickly.''
The blast was accompanied by sparks and smoke, and ``the concussion was bigger than the bang,'' Smith said.
Another witness, Snenetricus Warford of Memphis, Tenn., said the explosion appeared to come from a garbage can. ``I looked up, there was fire and smoke going up. People were there. It blew them over.''
The explosion rocked buildings more than a quarter-mile away, shattered windows in the immediate vicinity and could be heard throughout the downtown area, where tens of thousands of people have gathered every night since the Olympic Games began July 19.
Police officer Ron Otero, who was patrolling in the park, said he was about 50 yards away when the blast hit.
``I saw lots of smoke and heard a big explosion, very big _ it was like a shock wave hit us,'' Otero said. ``The next thing you saw was people on the ground.''
The sound tower was still standing after the blast, but debris littered its base.
At Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport, where security had already been tightened due to the Games, authorities were checking trash cans for suspicious packages, said airport spokeswoman April Majors.
Centennial Olympic Park opened just a week before the Olympics began, built on an area formerly occupied by vacant and decrepit buildings. The 21-acre park has sponsor buildings, concert stages and exhibits.