Olympic bomb attack suspect's '88 days of hell'

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The Independent Online
Two days after being cleared of suspicion of involvement in the Atlanta Olympic bombing, Richard Jewell emotionally denounced the FBI and the media for their "mad rush" to find him guilty, but vowed to try to pick up the threads of a broken career in law-enforcement.

His voice sometimes breaking with emotion, Mr Jewell told a press conference of his "88 days of hell" since he found the bomb that was to explode at 1.20am on 27 July, killing one woman, wounding more than 100 others, and casting a dark cloud of terrorism over the centennial summer Games.

"I am not the bomber. I am a man who lived every waking minute for 88 days afraid I would be arrested for a horrible crime I did not commit. For 88 days I lived a nightmare," said Mr Jewell, a former deputy sheriff who was working as a temporary security guard during the games.

Initially, he was depicted as a hero, but within two days his name had been leaked to an Atlanta newspaper as the prime suspect in the case. Thereafter he was besieged by the media, a prisoner in the apartment he shared with his mother, seemingly presumed guilty before even being charged. "Part of that nightmare has ended, but now I must face the other part: while the government can tell me I'm innocent, the government cannot give me back my good name ...

"In its rush to show the world it had found its man, the FBI trampled on my rights as citizen. The media cared nothing for my feelings as a human being. In their mad rush to fill their personal agendas, the FBI and the media almost destroyed me and my mother," he said.

"All I did was my job, to spot unattended packages and report them," he continued, breaking into tears as he spoke of the real heroes of that night, "the bomb-disposal people, the officers who took shrapnel, the paramedics, the firemen."

"The FBI and the media decided to portray me as the bomber, but I love people, I could never hurt another person. I did not seek to be called a hero," he said.

The saga has been a chilling example of how the mere fact of being a police suspect, coupled with the the demands of a furiously competitive media, can disrupt a person's life. "The cameras and the FBI followed my every move, I felt like a hunted animal, followed constantly, waiting to be killed."

No one should be subjected to such an ordeal, he said. "I hope that in future the authorities move with caution, that the media can curb their appetite for the substantial story by staying objective."

That may be asking too much. Lawyers say Mr Jewell has no case against the FBI, but there are plans to sue NBC and the Atlanta Constitution newspaper. Many news reports at the time asserted that he fitted the profile of a bomber, as a frustrated would-be policeman, or a cynical glory hunter. However briefly, he may now expect to enjoy the fruits of celebrity, book contracts and talk-show appearances.

The case itself meanwhile remains a mystery. The FBI is said to have half a dozen possible suspects, but no arrest is imminent.