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The Suspect: An Olympic Bombing, the FBI,…
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The Suspect: An Olympic Bombing, the FBI, the Media, and Richard Jewell,…

by Kent Alexander

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151992,993 (4.5)1
" On July 27, 1996, a hapless former cop turned hypervigilant security guard named Richard Jewell spotted a suspicious bag in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park, the town square of the 1996 Summer Games. Inside was a bomb, the largest of its kind in FBI and ATF history. Minutes later, the bomb detonated amid a crowd of fifty thousand people. But thanks to Jewell, it only wounded 111 and killed two, not the untold scores who would have otherwise died. With the eyes of the world on Atlanta, the Games continued. But the pressure to find the bomber was intense. Within seventy-two hours, Jewell went from the hero to the FBI's main suspect. The news leaked and the intense focus on the guard forever changed his life. The worst part: It let the true bomber roam free to strike again. What really happened that evening during the Olympic Games? The attack left a mark on American history, but most of what we remember is wrong. In a triumph of reporting and access in the tradition of the best investigative journalism, former U.S. Attorney Kent Alexander and former Wall Street Journal reporter Kevin Salwen reconstruct all the events leading up to, during, and after the Olympic bombing from mountains of law enforcement evidence and the extensive personal records of key players, including Richard himself. The Suspect, the culmination of more than five years of reporting, is a gripping story of the rise of domestic terrorism in America, the advent of the 24/7 news cycle, and an innocent man's fight to clear his name."--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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There were certainly many good moments that came out of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta such as Muhammad Ali lighting the Olympic Cauldron during the Opening Ceremonies and Kerri Strug competing on an injured ankle and securing a gold medal for the U.S. women's gymnastics team. However, tragedy also struck after a pipe bomb attack in Centennial Park killed one person, Alice Hawthorne, and injured 111 people. A cameraman also died when he suffered a fatal heart attack while running to the scene. Law enforcement rushed to figure out who was responsible for the attack and unfortunately the case turned into a gigantic mess.

Security guard Richard Jewell was working at Centennial Park the night of the bombing. He was the person who alerted higher ups of a suspicious looking bag that had been left unattended. While he helped secure the area, the bomb went off. Given the thousands of people in the park at the time, Richard was hailed a hero because without him taking action, the casualties could have been significantly greater. But within a few days, the FBI considered him a suspect and word leaked out to the media. Richard's world was turned upside down as the public perception of him quickly changed from hero to villain and he became a frequent punchline for late night comedians. Guess what? He wasn't the bomber.

I was a teenager back in 1996 and even decades later this still remains one of the more bizarre things I have ever seen played out in the media. First Richard is the man who saved lives with his quick thinking. Then because he fits the lone wolf type profile he turns into a suspect. Oh no, we hate him now! But wait, looks like after law enforcement searches his home and digs more into past, maybe he didn't do it. After some bombings in Alabama, the authorities move on to a new suspect. It's okay people, Richard really is a good guy. We can like him again. The whole sage was just a roller coaster and I can't imagine what it was like to be in Richard's shoes. And that's why I wanted to read this book, as I almost felt like I owed it to him to learn more about what he went through and hopefully get a more well-rounded view of him as a person instead of the more sensationalized version the media put out.

This is certainly a well-researched book and my guess is there probably will never be another book on the market that takes this close of a look into the case. While some of the key players involved are deceased, the authors were able to piece together the facts of the case by interviewing friends and family, combing through old news articles, watching television interviews, etc. Co-author Kent Alexander was actually involved in the case as he was the U.S. attorney who sent Jewell a letter formally clearing him. This was something negotiated ahead of time with Jewell's lawyers and after it was released it went a long way in shifting the public's perception of him as the man responsible for the bombing.

I think the authors do a good job in painting the picture of everything going on during this time period. They write about everything leading up to the Games, including the security measures that were put in place. The internet and cable news channels really starting to gain popularity at this time helped contribute to the 24-hour news cycle. Law enforcement needed to find the person or persons responsible for the bombing quickly in case future attacks had been planned. There was a lot going on as it was like the perfect storm and unfortunately for Richard Jewell he got caught up in the middle of it.

I think each reader will draw their own conclusions about the case. I think most of us can agree that Richard Jewell was put through the ringer which is extremely unfortunate given he was innocent. Now whether or not you can assign blame for what happened is where it becomes more of a grey issue. Was it law enforcement or the media that caused this absolute circus? Both? Should certain individuals take most of the blame like the reporter or the FBI agent? After reading the book, I can't say my opinions on the case have changed but I do think I have now gotten much more of a complete picture. The authors for the most part just present the facts without interjecting their opinions but I was left with the impression they didn't think too highly of a particular FBI agent.

Definitely recommend reading this book if you want a definitive look at the case. Obviously a big part of the story is Richard Jewell, but the book does go into detail about Eric Rudolph, the man responsible for the Olympic bombing as well as other bombings. Once law enforcement correctly identified him as a suspect, the hunt for him took years before he was successfully apprehended. Chances are you are like me and can never remember the name Eric Rudolph as the media coverage wasn't as extensive with him as it was with Jewell. And how many people out there incorrectly associate Richard Jewell with the bombing and as memories fade, forget he was innocent? Eric Rudolph is responsible for the Centennial Park bombing as well as three other bombings. I think we owe it to Richard to remember that.

Thank you to Netgalley and Abrams Press giving me an opportunity to read an advance digital copy in exchange for an honest review! ( )
  fastforward | Oct 4, 2019 |
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