As the world watches athletes compete at the Olympics in Tokyo, many people in Georgia are reflecting on memories from the 1996 Atlanta Games.
From Muhammad Ali lighting the Olympic torch to sprinter Michael Johnson winning multiple gold medals and gymnast Kerri Strug winning gold despite a foot injury, there were countless unforgettable moments that defined the Atlanta Games.
Another memory from 25 years ago that many will not forget is the moment a bomb ripped through Centennial Olympic Park.
Spectators were enjoying the festive atmosphere when, around 1:20 a.m. on July 27, an explosion rocked the park. Two people died and another 110 were injured.
The convicted bomber, Eric Robert Rudolph, targeted the park using a bomb hidden in a backpack.
Security guard Richard Jewell, who was dealing with a crowd of rowdy college students, went for backup and found Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Tom Davis. When they returned to the area where the students had been, Jewell spotted an abandoned backpack.
Bomb specialists they called in to deal with the backpack took a look and ordered them to evacuate the area immediately. Jewell, Davis and other law enforcement officers cleared the area, including a nearby TV camera tower.
That’s when the bomb exploded.
“It was just a huge explosion,” Davis told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2016. “A very loud explosion and a lot of heat. It forced me to the ground. I just saw people laying everywhere, many of them screaming and hurt severely.”
Davis was one of the more than 100 who were injured by shrapnel from the bomb. Nearby, he could see the body of Alice Hawthorne, a 44-year-old mother from Albany who had traveled to Atlanta with her daughter to see the Games.
The second person who died that night was Melih Uzunyol, a Turkish journalist who suffered a fatal heart attack as he rushed to the scene.
Jewell, who is now considered a hero for saving the lives of more than two dozen people, was initially considered a suspect in the case. Though he was cleared about three months after the bombing, the cloud of suspicion hung over his head until Rudolph’s arrest.
Jewell died of a heart attack in 2007 at age 44.
Among those also at Centennial Olympic Park that fateful night was Mark McKay, traffic anchor/reporter for 95.5 WSB in Atlanta.
Reporting for CNN in July 1996, McKay tells Cox Media Group’s Nicole Bennett that initially when the bomb went off, he thought it was sound coming from a concert taking place at the park.
>>Listen to the FULL interview as it was originally aired on WGAU Radio:
Olympic swimmer Janet Evans also spoke with 95.5 WSB, reflecting on the Atlanta Games, and specifically recalled her confusion and shock immediately after the bomb went off at the Olympic park.
“Being a kid that grew up in California, I thought for a second that it was an earthquake,” she explained. “The building I was in shook.”
Evans adds, “I think you don’t think that something like that is going to happen at the Olympic Games. It was very tragic and very much a dark day in Atlanta.”
However, Evans says she and her fellow athletes refused to let the bombing define the rest of the Games:
“We said to the world, ‘the Olympics are more, the Olympics bring people together,’ and we weren’t going to let that ruin the spirit of the Olympics. And I think that the athletes did a great job honoring the victims, and honoring the spirit of the Games.”
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