No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
August 29, 2007 - Richard Jewell died on this day. 10 years earlier on July 27, 1996, Jewell was working as a security guard during the Atlanta Olympics. He was on patrol in Centennial Olympic Park where thousands of spectators were enjoying a late-night concert by the band Jack Mack and the Heart Attack. As he made his rounds Jewell noticed a suspicious green backpack that had been left unattended. He followed protocol and alerted officers from the Georgia Bureau of Investigations. He also started to clear people from the immediate area.
9 minutes later, Eric Rudolph dialed 9-1-1 and warned the operator that there was a bomb in the park. It exploded less than 15 minutes later. The powerful blast sprayed shrapnel over a wide area. One woman was killed and 111 others were injured. A cameraman rushing to cover the story collapsed and died from a heart attack.
Investigators would later determine that the bag Jewell had found contained the largest pipe bomb in U.S. history. The sophisticated device weighed over 40 pounds.
In the immediate aftermath Jewell was hailed as a hero, but quickly that changed. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the FBI was treating Jewell as a suspect based on a "lone bomber" profile. A huge wave of media investigations began to pick apart the 34-year-old Jewell's personal life and employment history.
Jewell was cast as a wannabe policeman who had conjured the bombing scheme to furthur his law enforcement career. Hundreds of reporters camped outside the apartment he shared with this mother. Comedian Jay Leno called him the Una-Doofus.
On a more serious level, the FBI had Jewell under 24-hour surveillance. They searched his home and questioned his co-workers and friends. Jewell countered the suspicions by taking and passing a lie detector test.
Two months later the U.S. attorney in charge of the case sent Jewell a letter explaining that he was no longer a suspect of the investigation. Hoping to overcome the stigma of false accusations against him, Jewell filed lawsuits against media outlets that he believed had libeled his name. He won settlements in many of the cases. In 2005 Jewell was officially exonerated when Eric Rudolph pled guilty to placing the bomb in Centennial Park.
In his final years Jewell battled health problems related to obesity, diabetes and kidney disease. In addition, he would never fully recover from the damage to his reputation.
He was found dead on the floor of his home. The cause of death was a heart attack.