Gov. Sonny Perdue marked the 10th anniversary of the Centennial Olympic Park bombing Tuesday by commending former security guard Richard Jewell for his actions in the moments before the deadly attack.
Perdue credited Jewell with spotting a suspicious green backpack at the park, notifying authorities and helping evacuate bystanders from the area on July 27, 1996. The blast killed Alice Hawthorne of Albany and injured more than 100 others.
"The bottom line is this: His actions saved lives that day. He did what he was trained to do, " Perdue, who is seeking re-election, said with Jewell at his side at an afternoon news conference in the state Capitol. "Mr. Jewell, on behalf of Georgia, we want to thank you for keeping Georgians safe and doing your job during the course of those Games."
Jewell was praised as a hero following the bombing, but days later The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other media outlets identified him as the FBI's chief suspect. The FBI later cleared Jewell of any wrongdoing. He was never charged with a crime.
Eric Robert Rudolph pleaded guilty to the bombing in 2005 and is serving life in prison for it and other attacks.
"Unfortunately, in our media-driven world, too many people still associate Richard Jewell's name with the bombing in negative ways. They remember him as a suspect and not as a hero, " said Perdue before handing Jewell an official commendation. "And that is the real reason we are here today -- to do our small part in setting the record straight about Richard Jewell."
After he was cleared, Jewell sued the Journal-Constitution and other media outlets for libel, arguing that their reports defamed him. Several news organizations settled, including NBC and CNN.
The Journal-Constitution did not settle. The newspaper has contended that at the time it published its reports, Jewell was a suspect, so the articles were accurate. The newspaper also has asserted that it was not reckless or malicious in its reports regarding Jewell.
In a voice choked with emotion, Jewell thanked Perdue for the commendation.
"I never sought to be a hero. I have always viewed myself as just one of the many trained professionals who simply did his or her job that tragic night, " said Jewell, 43, now a sheriff's deputy in Meriwether County. "I wish I could have done more."
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