A Closer Look: Richard Jewell never wanted the attention. Most heroes don’t

The focal point of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in more ways than one, slowly but surely Jewell is being recognized for his heroic actions in Atlanta.

Centennial Olympic Park (ATR)
Centennial Olympic Park (ATR)

Earlier this month Richard Jewell, the hero-turned-suspect and then back to a hero again, of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta was honored with a small, yet dignified ceremony at the park.

The ceremony celebrated the heroes of the July 27, 1996 terrorist bombing during the Atlanta Summer Olympics. Two people died and 111 more were injured as a result of the bombing.

Jewell, who was a security guard during the Atlanta Games, noticed an abandoned backpack in the park and altered authorities. He helped to quickly clear the area before the bomb detonated.

Tom Davis, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent, was one of the authorities helping to clear the park that early morning and he has no doubt Jewell’s quick thinking saved countless lives.

“Had Richard Jewell not been here that night, had he not taken his job seriously, had he not seen the backpack underneath the bench, and had law enforcement not responded in the manner they did, I’m absolutely convinced the death toll at Centennial Olympic Park would have been significantly higher that night,” Davis said at the ceremony.

Richard Jewell, 33, the security guard who first alerted police about a bomb in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park before it detonated early July 27 and was treated as a hero, returns to his home outside Atlanta July 30 after being questioned by authorities. According to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jewell is being treated as a suspect in the bombing, which killed two and injured 110.
REUTERS
Richard Jewell, 33, the security guard who first alerted police about a bomb in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park before it detonated early July 27 and was treated as a hero, returns to his home outside Atlanta July 30 after being questioned by authorities. According to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jewell is being treated as a suspect in the bombing, which killed two and injured 110. REUTERS

But it wasn’t all parades and medals for Jewell who quickly went from hero to prime suspect in the eyes of the media and public. He was painted as a “lone bomber” and “person of interest” by the FBI who suspected Jewell of planting the backpack and then “finding” it to look like a hero. Other law enforcement officials also pointed the finger at Jewell despite a total lack of evidence or motive on Jewell’s part.

The FBI mishandled the case in every possible way, searching his home, putting him under round-the-clock surveillance and other injustices. What they didn’t do was charge him with any crime.

Finally in October of 1996, 88 days after the bombing, Jewell was cleared but the damage to his name and reputation was already done. The FBI never apologized to Jewell, only regretting the attention Jewell received.

Jewell spent the rest of his life working in law enforcement and trying to clear his name. He got married a few years after the Atlanta Games and lived out of the spotlight on farm, but the shadows never went away unfortunately. He suffered from various health issues and passed away on August 29, 2007 at the age of 44.

Who among us would’ve acted the same way Jewell did on that hot, summer night? Would we have just walked past the backpack and not said anything? Would we have seen it all? Upon knowing it contained a bomb would we have run away screaming in panic? Or calmly remained and cleared the area free of people? Knowing the right thing and doing it are entirely different things. It’s worth wondering whether Jewell would’ve acted in the same manner if he knew it would ultimately ruin his life. I suspect he would’ve because that’s what heroes do.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by John Gaps/AP/Shutterstock (6508026c)
CENTENNIAL PARK Overall photo of Centennial Park at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, . A fatal Saturday morning explosion, centered at the bottom of the temporary tower in the foreground, closed the park over the weekend
Atlanta Bombing 1996, ATLANTA, USA
Mandatory Credit: Photo by John Gaps/AP/Shutterstock (6508026c) CENTENNIAL PARK Overall photo of Centennial Park at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, . A fatal Saturday morning explosion, centered at the bottom of the temporary tower in the foreground, closed the park over the weekend Atlanta Bombing 1996, ATLANTA, USA

The stain of the bombing can never be washed clean from the Atlanta Games, but hopefully one day it will be from Jewell’s legacy. He was hero, and countless people owe him their life for his actions.

It’s been many years in the making but the Centennial Olympic Park dedication ceremony was another small step in righting a terrible wrong. Jewell’s widow Dana was there and believes her husband sees what is happening and is proud of it.

Plaques and ceremonies are nice, but the best way to pay tribute to Jewell is by doing what’s right no matter the cost.

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