Late thanks for Olympic guard

Published August 2, 2006

ATLANTA - Richard Jewell, the security guard who was branded a suspect after the deadly bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, was honored at the state Capitol on Tuesday, 10 years later, for saving lives by moving people out of harm's way just before the blast.

The state Legislature issued a proclamation honoring Jewell in 1998, but it was not presented in person; it came in the mail. Gov. Sonny Perdue sought to change that when he invited Jewell to receive another award from the governor himself.

"This is what I think is the right thing to do," Perdue said as he handed a certificate to Jewell.

Jewell said: "I never expected this day to ever happen. I'm just glad that it did."

Jewell was initially hailed as a hero for spotting a suspicious backpack containing the bomb and moving people away just before it exploded. But three days after the July 27, 1996, blast killed one and wounded 111 others, an unattributed report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution described Jewell as "the focus" of the investigation. Other news organizations also linked Jewell to the bombing investigation.

He was never arrested or charged.

The real bomber, it turned out, was antigovernment extremist Eric Rudolph, who also planted other bombs in the Atlanta area and in Birmingham, Ala., that killed a police officer, maimed a nurse and wounded several others.

Rudolph was captured after hiding for five years in the mountains of North Carolina. He pleaded guilty to all four bombings last year and is serving life in prison.

Perdue did not say what prompted his decision to hold the belated public ceremony, but he said he sought Jewell out, not the other way around.

Jewell's attorney, Lin Wood, said recent news reports about Jewell on the 10th anniversary of the bombing "had a lot to do with it." In an interview with the Associated Press, Jewell said he had felt slighted because he received the legislative proclamation in the mail instead of in person.

The governor's award read: "Mr. Jewell deserves to be remembered as a hero for the actions he performed during the Centennial Olympic Games. He is a model citizen, and the state of Georgia thanks him for his long-standing commitment to law enforcement." The award said that "many lives were spared due to the efforts of Richard Jewell."

"I never sought to be a hero," Jewell said. "I wish I could have done more."

Jewell sued several media companies and settled for undisclosed amounts, but his lawsuit against the Journal-Constitution is still pending. The newspaper has stood by its coverage.

Since the Olympics, Jewell has worked in various law enforcement jobs. Now 43, he works as a sheriff's deputy in rural Meriwether County. Jewell's wife and mother attended Tuesday's ceremony.

"No one can rewrite history," Jewell said. "We can only learn from it."