'That bomber was here among us' Park reopens today to a skittish public

Atlanta Olympics

July 30, 1996|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Krista Reese stood behind a metal barricade and peered across the 6-foot-high fence. She glimpsed two tiny American flags tucked behind a sound and light tower. She examined the Olympic bomb site.

"I'm just so angry," the 42-year-old Atlanta native said yesterday. "I can't really put this into words. But somebody died there. And now we've got to go back in."

Today, the Centennial Summer Games will return to Centennial Olympic Park. The gates will open at 8 a.m. Two hours later, former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, an ordained minister, will lead a service to remember the two people who died and the 111 who were injured in Saturday morning's pipe bomb explosion.

And then, most likely, the party will simply resume, under the gaze of a heavily armed police force and the eyes of the world.

Once a corporate playground and spectator gathering place, the park has become a somber symbol of an Olympics gone haywire. "That bomber was right here among us," Reese said. "He saw the kids playing in the fountains. He saw the people having a good time. He felt the same things I felt, that we all felt. But he left a bomb. That is hard for me to grasp. It is very creepy."

As workmen constructed a makeshift wooden platform over the 4-foot bomb crater, thousands of spectators wandered on the streets outside the 21-acre site that sits in the heart of Atlanta.

Some posed for pictures along a rise in front of the bomb site. Others prayed. The streets were clogged with walkers, cyclists and roller-bladers.

There was a guy from Azteca TV in Mexico, dressed as a clown, mugging for the cameras.

And watching over it all, were police spaced every 20 yards, a few dozen soldiers, the occasional helicopter and an Atlanta Police Department blimp. Since the bombing, Atlanta has at times appeared to be a capital city the day after a coup. There are no tanks in the streets, but there are thousands of soldiers sitting idly in parking lots, watching venues, or simply walking the streets.

"People are coming up to me and the first thing they say is they want to capture the bomber and hang him inside the park," said Gayla Howard, who was working an eight-hour guard shift about 20 yards from the blast site.

"It's going to be all right," said Howard, a probation officer with Georgia's Department of Corrections. "People don't strike twice. They're not going to be stupid enough to come back here. I'm fine guarding this site. It's a job and it helps the country."

The vendors across the street were delighted to see the security, and even happier to see the crowds. For two days, the vendors were like everyone else in Atlanta -- locked out of the area as the FBI gathered evidence.

"The people are ready to go back in," said Jim Ledford, who was selling $20 fans to a steady line of customers. "People seem to have sustained their spirit. When the park opens, you'll see a festive atmosphere."

Mandy Godfrey, who sells T-shirts, isn't so sure. She remains shaken by the blast.

"We're just not used to something like that down here," she said. "Right now, I don't even feel like selling anything. I had a lot of friends get hurt in the blast. Some of them got knocked down. One got shrapnel in his arms. Everyone is trying to figure out: Where is the bomber going to strike next?"

Leona Coffing and her 10-year-old daughter, Carling, stopped by the park.

"I think it's really terrible, what happened," Carling said. "I hope whoever did it, gets caught. But I'm not sure it will happen."

"I'm not going to take my daughter in there unless it is really safe," Leona Coffing said. "I'm just ashamed that it's probably an American who is doing this."

One American was killed in the blast. A Turkish cameraman died of a heart attack as he rushed to the scene.

In front of one entrance, people began to honor the dead, leaving behind five bouquets of flowers, two American flags, a Turkish flag, an unlighted candle, and a note of condolence from the Turkish American Cultural Association of Georgia.

Someone else dropped a paper cup by the gate. Nobody swept it away.

Pub Date: 7/30/96

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