The 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing is back in the news, as a new book and an upcoming Clint Eastwood movie give their takes on the story of Richard Jewell, a heroic security guard who saved people from the bomb only to become falsely suspected as the criminal who planted it.
The real perpetrator was right-wing terrorist Eric Rudolph. After the Olympics, Rudolph went on to bomb an LGBTQ nightclub in Atlanta and two medical clinics that performed abortions, one in Alabama and one in Sandy Springs. The Sandy Springs bombing on Jan. 16, 1997, at an office building at 275 Carpenter Drive, was the first use of his tactic of setting off a delayed second bomb in an attempt to kill first responders. His shrapnel bombs killed two and injured dozens more. In 1998, he went on the run and was captured in the North Carolina mountains in 2003. He is serving a life sentence in a federal “supermax” prison.
The following are some memories from local figures about the Olympics and Sandy Springs bombings. If you have memories you would like to share, email email@example.com and we may use them in a future story.
Sandy Springs bombing
Then: Fulton County Police officer
Now: Retired Sandy Springs Police captain and civilian employee; columnist at Atlanta Senior Life
My car was blown up.
My car was there, but I was not. I left a day earlier on vacation to Lake Tahoe to ski. At the time, I was assigned as security for the chairman of the Board of Commissioners of Fulton County, Mitch Skandalakis. I had a Fulton County Police unmarked, black Ford Crown Vic.
My sub officer for that day was with the chairman when the 911 calls came in. Since he lived in Sandy Springs, he told the officer to take him to the Carpenter Drive medical building. They parked just outside of another car that was near a dumpster. They got out and, like others, stood in the parking lot, waiting to see what had happened, when the second bomb went off in or next to the dumpster.
The car parked next to it took the brunt of the nails and other frags that Rudolph made. Mine took some but was mostly shielded by the other car. The compression of the blast was so strong the car assumed it was a collision and activated the fuel shutoff valve, disabling the car from starting. When the officer ushered the chairman to the car, it wouldn’t start.
When the news story hit nationally, I watched from my hotel. I immediately called my backup who worked that day, who told me my car was messed up, but the boss wasn’t hurt. There was little I could do so, I put on my skis and hit the slopes until late that night.
The Crown Vic never worked right again. The windows were shattered and the compression from the blast tweaked the doors so that they didn’t shut right. We took the car out of service shortly thereafter.
There was a funny photo on the front of the New York Times the following day, showing my substitute officer running just after the blast, with the chairman running behind him. The photo was funny because the officer was supposed to be the protection for the chairman, but was clearly outrunning him.
Then: Public relations rep for Olympics sponsors
Now: President and CEO, Leff & Associates public relations
I was working for a local public relations agency, representing several major Olympic sponsors. That day was a busy one and I had fallen asleep on my couch with the TV on when I got a call from a friend checking to see if I was OK. She thought I was working down at Centennial Park that night.
Since initially Jewell was being hailed as a hero for getting people away from the bomb, I was part of the team that was fielding media calls and setting up interviews with him.
That lasted for a day or so, it seems, but when he was named a suspect we had to stop that.
Sandy Springs bombing
Then: An editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Now: Editor-at-large at Reporter Newspapers
In January 1997, I was an assignment and rewrite editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I worked in the office on Marietta Street in downtown Atlanta and was assigned to the police news desk.
One morning, we in the newsroom got word that a bomb apparently had blown up a medical clinic in Sandy Springs that performed abortions. It was only a few months after the bombing of Olympic Park, so we took the report very seriously. Several reporters were dispatched to interview police and witnesses and to find out what had happened. Reporters on the scene would gather information and then call editors to dictate the facts and quotes that could be used in news articles.
About 45 minutes after the first bomb exploded, I was on the phone talking to one of our reporters — Scott Marshall, in my memory — about what he could see and hear and what police were telling him. Suddenly, there was a great commotion. Scott shouted in alarm. I could hear what I thought was running. Then, the call cut off.
I had no idea what had happened and waited nervously for Scott to call back. When he did, he said a second bomb had exploded in the clinic parking lot.