Centennial Olympic Park bombing oral history (cont.)
Jim Gray (NBC Sports reporter): I was at the top of the Renaissance hotel where we were all staying. Dick Ebersol came and grabbed me and said, "You're going with me."
Eric Rudolph (confessed and convicted Olympic park bomber):The plan was to clear the park, and hopefully after clearing the park and the explosion, this would create a state of instability in Atlanta, potentially shut the Games down or at least eat into the profits that the Games were going to make. The idea was to use them as warning devices, not to target people. ... In retrospect, it was a poor decision.
Rudolph: I got into the park a little after 11 p.m., I guess. The idea was to wait there until the park cleared a little bit after 1 a.m. and then go ahead and place it in front of the video tower. ... There were like thousands of people taking pictures, and one of them happened to kneel down right in front of me and snap my face with the fountain in the background, and so I had to push up the schedule. I was a little jittery. I made my way to the benches, sat down when it was clear. I planted the bomb, had a 55-minute timer.
Rudolph said he made two 911 calls, both detailed in Lone Wolf: Eric Rudolph and the Legacy of American Terror by Maryanne Vollers. The first came at 12:46 a.m., 34 minutes before the bomb exploded. "Can you understand me?" Rudolph asked. When the female operator said yes, he continued, "You defy the order of the militia ..." Before he finished, the operator hung up.
Rudolph: I was forced to find a new phone [assuming the first call had been traced]. By that time, a lot of time had expired.
The second call came in at 12:58 a.m. "There is a bomb in Centennial Park. You have 30 minutes," Rudolph said.
Tommy Tomlinson (Georgia State Patrol captain, Centennial Olympic Park venue commander): I think Rudolph had called in, said there's a bomb in Centennial Park. That message, that phone call, was never conveyed to law enforcement on the site. We never heard that until after.
Tom Davis (Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent): I was making one last pass through the park. I had been there probably 15, 16 hours already that day. As I walked by the NBC tower, [security guard] Richard Jewell flagged me down and told me he was having some problems with some drunks throwing beer cans into the NBC tower. Richard points down to a green backpack. It took us several minutes to check around to see if we could determine who the bag belonged to, and of course no one claimed it. I called our bomb diagnostics team.
Steve Zellers (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives [ATF] certified explosive specialist): I got a radio call for some suspicious activity near the sound stage, the speakers there, so my partner and I meandered over there, talked to the security people, and they pointed out to us a backpack.
Rudolph: Once I [made a second 911 call], I got above what's called Harris Street there where I could see the park. I seen these two guys down on the ground with the bomb pulled out, and I said, "Oh, thank God. They are pretty quick."
Zellers: When I opened the package, lifted a flap, with my flashlight I looked inside. I could see some wiring and some pipe and endcaps and some plastic containers and stuff like that.
Tomlinson: A quick peek. He didn't like what he saw.
Zellers: It was the first time I've ever sat down on a package and saw a live explosive device.
Rudolph: They're looking in the pack with a light, and I figure, OK, they've clipped the circuit wires. I'm pretty good now.
Davis: One of them unzipped part of it, peeked into the end of the bag and then crawled back up and came up to me and asked me if he could borrow my cellphone.
Rudolph: They had a pretty good perimeter pushed back, and I figured, OK, they've got it disarmed now.
Zellers: The way we're trained, when you see a device like that, leave it in place. Let the bomb squad come and take care of it. We called it in.
We bring you back live to the International Broadcast Center in Atlanta right now, and the mood of our program changes dramatically at this moment because, quite apparently, the kind of incident which you hope will never take place at an Olympic Games has, in fact, taken place ... -- Jim Lampley on NBC, about 1:35 a.m. ET, July 27, 1996
Rudolph: I expected when it did detonate that nobody except security personnel would be in that park. I had no idea they were going to leave the park full of people.
Zellers: The device detonated. There was complete silence. Absolute silence.
Evans: Before you heard the noise, you felt the building shake.
Nearly a thousand white-hot pieces of pipe, clock, battery, and nails were sent hurtling through the air and into the crowd, each shot from the epicenter of the blast at more than 3,000 feet per second, faster than a thousand speeding bullets.
Rollins: We look up, and there's this mushroom cloud of smoke.
Patrick Rini (Dayton [Ohio] Daily News copy editor): The noise was unmistakable. It was bad. Something evil had happened.
Evans: You heard shaking, and you heard glass breaking, and you heard screaming.
Rollins: Holy f---, that was an explosion. ... It was huge, and it was resonant. And it echoed very hugely because we were surrounded by tall buildings.
Bergman: All the microphones picked up the volume of the bomb as well. So between the heat blast that pushed us back and just the incredible loudness of it, it was pretty terrifying.
Rini: I remember the sound. You know how when you're at the Fourth of July fireworks, and they set off the last few? Or, I grew up going to Cleveland Stadium as an Indians fan. When somebody hit a home run, they blew off that big, concussive firework. Not the one that showers really pretty colors, but the one that just bangs.
Chris Myers (ESPN anchor): I think I was voicing over boxing results over a graphic. ... We heard this loud pop, this boom sound. There were people and activity below us. My assumption was -- my back turned to that area, going over the results -- that this is fireworks or something. This is a party going on.