On July 27, 1996, during the Summer Games in Atlanta, a pipe bomb with nails went off in crowded Centennial Olympic Park, killing one woman and injuring 111 other people. Shortly before the explosion, Richard Jewell, who was working as a temporary security guard in the area, discovered a suspicious-looking backpack abandoned beneath a park bench. Jewell alerted police to the backpack, which held a bomb, and moved people out of harm’s way before it exploded. In the aftermath of the bombing, Jewell was praised as a hero for his actions. However, three days later, the media reported that Jewell was being investigated as a suspect in the case. Although he was never arrested or charged with any crime, for the next three months, Jewell faced intense scrutiny from both law enforcement officials and the media, who combed through his background and tracked his movements. Even after the Justice Department officially cleared Jewell of any involvement in the bombing in late October 1996, some people still viewed him with suspicion.
Jewell later filed libel lawsuits against several major media companies and reached settlements with CNN and NBC, among others. Before his death on August 29, 2007, Jewell, who suffered from diabetes and other health problems, worked as a sheriff’s deputy in Georgia. In 2006, during the 10-year anniversary of the Atlanta Olympics, Georgia governor Sonny Perdue publicly commended Jewell for saving lives at Centennial Park.
In May 2003, police in North Carolina captured Eric Rudolph, the real person responsible for the Olympic bombing, as well as the bombings of several abortion clinics and a gay bar. Rudolph, who eluded law enforcement authorities for years by living in the Appalachian wilderness, eventually pleaded guilty to his crimes and was sentenced to life in prison.