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Richard Jewell and officers honored at Olympic park ceremony

November 13, 2021 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — Richard Jewell and members of law enforcement who helped save lives when a bomb exploded in a downtown park during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta were honored in a ceremony at the park.

The dedication event celebrating heroes of the July 27, 1996, bombing was held Wednesday at Centennial Olympic Park with Jewell’s widow, Dana Jewell, in attendance, The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.

“I wish he was here to see this,” Jewell said. “I know that he sees what’s going on and he’s proud of it. He’s with us today.”

Retired Atlanta attorney Nadeen Green proposed a plaque honoring Jewell and a monument to law enforcement in the park’s Quilt of Remembrance area, which includes 111 stones honoring people injured in the bombing. Alice Hawthorne, who was killed in the explosion, and Melih Uzunyol, a Turkish television cameraman who died after suffering a heart attack while running to film the blast’s aftermath, are also honored there.

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Before he died at age 44 in 2007, Jewell brought a rose to the park each year on the anniversary of the bombing, his widow said.

Jewell, working as a security guard, spotted an abandoned backpack during a concert in Centennial Olympic Park shortly before 1 a.m. on July 27, 1996, and helped clear the area as federal agents determined it contained a bomb.

Jewell likely helped prevent many casualties and was initially hailed as a hero. But a few days later, he was reported to be the focus of the FBI investigation, and the public quickly turned on him. He was publicly cleared months later, but he dealt with the fallout for the rest of his life.

Eric Robert Rudolph pleaded guilty to the Centennial Park bombing and three others and is serving multiple life sentences at a supermax federal prison in Florence, Colorado.

Tom Davis, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent who was alerted to the bomb by Jewell and worked to move people away, spoke at the ceremony Wednesday.

“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 that they did, I’m absolutely convinced that the death toll at Centennial Park would have been significantly higher that night,” Davis said, according to the Journal-Constitution.

Billy Payne, who was instrumental in bringing the Olympics to Atlanta, also praised Jewell and first responders.

“Let there be no doubt whatsoever that the discovery of the bomb by Mr. Jewell and other first responders, and their issuing of alerts to other people saved countless lives,” Payne said. “The darkest hours of the Atlanta Olympic Games would have been significantly worse had it not been for the intervention of Mr. Jewell and these first responders.”