Almost 18 years ago, Richard Allensworth Jewell, working as a security for AT&T at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, GA, saved hundreds of lives as he helped evacuate a tower at Centennial Olympic Park less than 30 minutes before a lethal pipe bomb exploded. Although two people died and over 100 people were injured, Jewell was lauded as a hero by local, national and international media outlets. However, based on a tip to the FBI by Piedmont College President Raymond Cleere, Jewell’s former employer, Jewell became the prime suspect in the bombing investigation.
Less than 72 hours after the bomb exploded, Jewell’s name was leaked to the media as being at the top of the list of FBI suspects. Being the host news outlet, and seeking an exclusive story, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran an extra edition that implicated Richard Jewell as fitting the “lone bomber” criminal profile. The headline “FBI suspects ‘hero’ guard may have planted bomb” created a media circus with hundreds of reporters camping outside of the apartment of Bobi Jewell, Richard’s mother.
It took 88 days for the FBI to clear Jewell’s name, yet he had to wait almost a decade to be fully cleared of the crime in the court of public opinion. On April 5, 2005, the FBI revealed that Eric Robert Rudolph, an extreme militant, would plead guilty to the Centennial Park Bombing as well as other acts of terrorism. Richard Jewell was present at Rudolph’s hearing.
Richard Jewell died two years later on August 29, 2007. He was 44 years old. Jewell was survived by his wife Dana and his mother Bobi.
There are talks of a film based on Jewell’s rise and fall in the eyes of the media based on Marie Brenner’s Vanity Fair article “The Ballad of Richard Jewell.” Jewell is to be played by frequent Judd Apatow collaborator Jonah Hill.