Games go on despite blast 1 dead, 111 hurt in explosion at Atlanta park

Caller warned of attack

Athletes intent on not letting tragedy impede competition

July 28, 1996|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- They refused to give into terrorism.

With the whole world watching, the Centennial Summer Olympics went back into action yesterday, only hours after an early-morning pipe bomb blast killed one, injured 111, and rattled a city and a nation.

Even as federal investigators examined the wreckage caused by shrapnel from a homemade bomb that reverberated through Centennial Olympic Park, the world's greatest athletes continued to go for gold medals as hundreds of thousands of fans made their way to sporting venues past yellow police tape, security barricades and soldiers.

Investigators disclosed that a call warning of a blast was received by Atlanta's 911 emergency service at 1: 07 a.m. The pipe bomb detonated at 1: 25 a.m., two to three minutes after it was first encountered by a bomb search team in Centennial Olympic Park, the 21-acre gathering spot for spectators and athletes.

No one claimed responsibility for planting the device, which sent nails, screws and shrapnel flying through the air.

By early yesterday morning, under a steady rain, the park was littered with plastic sheets, crushed paper cups and blood stains. Investigators set up tiny orange flags near the blast site, at the base of a sound and light tower less than 50 yards from a main entertainment stage.

Alice S. Hawthorne, 44, of Albany, Ga., was killed in the explosion. A Turkish broadcasting cameraman, Melih Uzunyol, 40, died of a heart attack while running to the scene. Eleven others remained hospitalized late yesterday.

First terrorism since Munich

It was the first act of terrorism to strike the Olympics since the 1972 Munich Games, when Palestinians seized Israeli athletes and coaches.

Yesterday's bomb also hit the most heavily secured peacetime event in American history, as more than 30,000 security forces joined tens of thousands of volunteers and private security personnel to guard the Games.

Security was tightened throughout the city yesterday as Atlanta's Olympic organizers declined to postpone the Games. Athletes boarded buses, in some cases before dawn, to make their way to their events.

"Now, when people say 1996, they're not going to remember the medals we won, they're going to remember this is the place where we had a terrorist attack," said America's Matt Ghaffari, a silver medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling.

America's Dream Team -- basketball millionaires and the most high-profile athletes here -- voted to stay, although Karl Malone decided to send his family home.

And American athletes joined others from around the world, as they tried to wipe away the terrorist stain the only way they knew how: by aiming to go swifter, higher and stronger.

U.S. water polo goalkeeper Chris Duplanty said: "You don't know where the next crazy person is. I refuse to be intimidated by that. I think any time something like this happens, it's a shock, and people are hurt for stupid, selfish reasons. It's a tragedy."

'Cowardly acts'

Dr. Leroy Walker, president of the United States Olympic Committee, said: "Our athletes intend to compete in their events, and we refuse to let the cowardly acts of those who have so little regard for human life to dictate the course of their lives here in Atlanta."

Residents of Atlanta also reacted with fury and defiance, joining other spectators on a pilgrimage to 14 venues to watch 18 sporting events.

"I'm angry," said 29-year-old Tiffany Haag. "Wouldn't you be if someone did that to your city."

"I think everyone is having a great time," she said. "I work for a hotel, and everyone who leaves has had nothing but good things to say about their experience."

President Clinton labeled the bombing "an evil act of terror."

"It was aimed at the innocent people who were participating in the Olympic Games, and in the spirit of the Olympics -- an act of cowardice that stands in sharp contrast to the courage of the Olympic athletes."

Billy Payne, president of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, said, "The spirit of he Olympic Movement mandates that we continue."

"So, we march together, linking arms, to make the best out of this situation," Payne told NBC-TV.

Yet it took only a few minutes to nearly tear apart these Games.

911 got the call

The bomb hit at the heart of Centennial Olympic Park, a corporate playground ringed with pavilions. At 1: 07 a.m., from a phone two blocks from the site, a 911 operator received a call warning that a bomb was ready to go off within 30 minutes. Law-enforcement officials said they believe the caller was a white male with an American accent that was "indistinguishable."

"He did make a specific threat and he did indicate the bomb was in the park," said Woody Johnson, chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Atlanta office.

A few minutes after the call was received, private security guards inside the park dispersed a crowd near the lighting and sound tower. A guard noticed a knapsack and a bomb-squad was quickly dispatched to the area.

The team discovered the pipe bomb and tried to move spectators away.

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