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National Perspective | UPDATE

Atlanta Park Bomb's Blast Still Echoes

September 28, 2000|EDITH STANLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Centennial Olympic Park is quiet now.

In the 21 acres of green space, with its babbling pools and gushing fountains, there is little evidence of the horror wrought by a bomb on July 27, 1996, unless you look closely at the bronze sculpture called Tribute. Imprints of nails and screws are gouged into the statue's green metal, scars that attest to the velocity of the shrapnel that flew that night and changed the lives of many people forever.

The bomb exploded on the ninth night of the 1996 Olympic Games here. Two people died, another 111 were injured.

Four years later, as another Olympics unfolds, the suspected assailant remains a fugitive.

The FBI has accused Eric Robert Rudolph, a 34-year-old carpenter and outdoorsman, of planting the bomb at Centennial Olympic Park. He also is charged with the double bombings at an Atlanta abortion clinic, double bombings at an Atlanta nightclub and the bombing of a Birmingham, Ala., abortion clinic that killed a police officer.

Rudolph remains on the FBI's Most Wanted list, with a $1-million reward on his head.

Federal, state and local authorities have focused their search in the rugged southern Appalachian mountain area around Murphy and Andrews, N.C. This is where Rudolph rented a house, where his gray Nissan pickup truck was found.

At one time, as many as 200 agents swarmed the woods, using helicopters and equipment such as infrared sensors and night-vision goggles. The hunt has cost an estimated $25 million.

Locals say Rudolph has an advantage. He spent his teenage years exploring the region's dense woods, dark caves and abandoned gem mines.

The last verified sighting of Rudolph was in Andrews, in July 1998, when he took supplies and a pickup belonging to a local health food store owner. He left behind five $100 bills.

Investigators closed the Andrews headquarters of the Southeast Bomb Task Force three months ago, but they continue to search in the area, said Richard Kolko, an FBI special agent in Atlanta.

"Although the story has in many ways dropped off the front pages of the press, there are lots of individuals who are working diligently to bring closure to this case," Kolko said.

Federal authorities filed charges against Rudolph in October 1998, two years after clearing Richard Jewell, a security guard at Centennial Olympic Park, of any involvement in the attack.

Jewell had gone from hero to prime suspect in a few short days and was the subject of news reports linking him to the bombing.

His lawsuits against NBC, CNN, the New York Post, Piedmont College and the owners of Atlanta radio station WKLS are settled and he has received more than $1 million, his lawyer said. Still pending is Jewell's defamation of character suit against the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Two key issues remain unresolved: whether Jewell was a public figure when the newspaper published a story headlined, "FBI suspects 'hero' guard may have planted the bomb" and where the newspaper obtained its information about Jewell being a suspect.

Two reporters refused to disclose their sources and were ordered to jail, but they have remained free while appealing.

Jewell, 36, now works as a patrol officer in Jefferson, Ga., a town of 2,800 about an hour's drive northeast of Atlanta.

"Richard is happy with his job as a police officer. . . . He has found a lot of happiness in his relationship with his fiancee," said Lin Wood, his attorney.

The bombing claimed two lives. Alice Hawthorne, 44, had gone to a concert in the park to celebrate her teenage daughter's birthday and was fatally wounded. Melih Uzunyol, 40, a Turkish television cameraman, suffered a heart attack and died as he rushed to the park to film the aftermath.

Hawthorne's daughter, Fallon Stubbs, and the girl's stepfather, John Hawthorne, filed a lawsuit that is still pending. They sued organizers of the concert and the companies that provided security, accusing them of dereliction of duty and not maintaining the safety of the park.

A state court judge dismissed the case last year, citing a state law that shields property owners from liability for damage during free recreational usage. The case is on appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court.

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