Olympics bombing hero Richard Jewell to be honored in Atlanta: ‘We felt like it was the right thing to do’
By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Nov. 1, 2019
Richard Jewell, the hero of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic bombing incident, will be honored by the Georgia World Congress Center with a plaque at Centennial Olympic Park.
Jewell was a security guard on the night of July 27, 1996, at a concert during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games when he noticed a suspicious backpack and tried to clear out people attending the event at Centennial Olympic Park.
The bomb exploded, killing Alice Hawthorne, 44, of Albany, Ga., and injuring more than 100 people. A Turkish cameraman died from a heart attack when he rushed to film the scene. After the bombing, Jewell was publicly identified as a suspect, but several months later he was exonerated and recognized as being a hero all along. Eric Robert Rudolph was later convicted for the bombing.
“After a lot of thought, we thought it was appropriate because two of the victims are remembered in the park’s Quilt of Remembrance,” said Frank Poe, executive director of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, which owns Centennial Olympic Park. “We felt like it was the right thing to do.”
The park plans to have a ceremony to unveil the plaque on March 2, 2020.
Dana Jewell, Richard Jewell’s widow, was touched when she heard the news.
“It’s about time,” she said. “That’s awesome.”
Dana Jewell, in a rare telephone interview, said the Olympic bombing tragedy weighed on her husband until the day he died, Aug. 29, 2007.
“He never quit suffering,” said Dana, who met Jewell two years after the Olympics. “He always felt responsible for not being able to clear out everybody and not being able to save Mrs. Alice Hawthorne. He felt like he didn’t do enough.”
The GWCC decided to honor Jewell after being approached by Nadeen Green, a retired attorney with no direct connection to the family. Green felt strongly the park needed to recognize Jewell for his role during the night of the bombing.
“It troubled me that there never was any acknowledgement of him in the park,” said Green, who started an effort to honor Jewell about two years ago. When she heard Clint Eastwood was going to shoot a movie about Richard Jewell and re-enacting the bombing at Centennial Olympic Park, she reached out to the media with her idea.
“I did it for two reasons. One, it’s a piece of history, and it’s an important piece of the history of the park,” Green said. “And two, as corny as it sounds, it’s the right thing to do for the city and the authority. More people would have died had it not been for Richard Jewell. It’s important for us to acknowledge him.”
The GWCC also felt the timing was right.
A book – “The Suspect: An Olympic bombing, the FBI, the media and Richard Jewell, the man caught in the middle” – written by Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen is being released on Nov. 12.
“Richard and other officers saved scores of lives that night, putting themselves in harm’s way,” said Alexander. “Kevin and I think the honor is a wonderful idea.”
Also, the Eastwood movie “Richard Jewell” is scheduled to be released on Dec. 13. The authority allowed Eastwood to film a re-enactment of the bombing in the park, and it issued the following statement at the time: “As with any film shoot in Centennial Olympic Park, we have done our due diligence to understand the subject matter of the film and its impact to the Park.”
Dana Jewell said she has bitter-sweet emotions with the upcoming release of the book, the movie and the Centennial Olympic Park plaque.
“I wish Richard was here to see this and be a part of everything that’s going on in his name,” she said. “It’s sad he’s not here. He deserved to see it.”
When they started dating, Dana Jewell said, they would go to Centennial Olympic Park together.
“It was always so surreal to go to the park with him. It was a very solemn experience,” she said. “He wouldn’t say much at all.”
Dana Jewell said her husband, as a result of the Olympic bombing experience, didn’t like being around big crowds. They bought a farm in Meriwether County, Ga., south of Atlanta, where they had a dozen dogs and cats. She has since sold the farm and moved to Carrollton, Ga.
“Being married to Richard was the greatest honor of my life,” she said.
GWCC’s Poe said the authority is not accepting donations to cover the costs of the plaque and the commemorative event.
“We are doing it with our own resources,” Poe said. “We felt like it needed to be handled with grace and dignity. The Quilt of Remembrance is a recognition of what occurred in the park. This is part of that story.”