Originally created 12/29/96

Bombing led news in Georgia



ATLANTA - A deadly pipe bomb explosion paused but failed to halt Georgia's Olympic celebration. Richard Jewell regained his hero status after nearly three months as a bombing suspect. And ValuJet, grounded for 15 weeks after a fatal crash, regained its wings.

In 1996, Georgia's toastings and tragedies ran the gamut from the weddings of two children of two ex-presidents to the discovery of a newborn's body in a University of Georgia dormitory.

Downtown Atlanta's carnival-like atmosphere during the Olympics rankled some international Olympic officials with its gaudy display of corporate logos and inflatable beer cans. But the crowds loved it, transforming the city into a 24-hour party town, Centennial Olympic Park at its center.

On July 27, a week into the games, Atlanta police got a phone call: "There is a bomb in Centennial Park. You have 30 minutes," the caller said. The explosion came 22 minutes later, during a late-night concert in the crowded park.

The blast killed 44-year-old Alice Hawthorne of Albany and injured more than 100 others. A Turkish television cameraman died of a heart attack running to the scene.

When the park reopened three days after the bombing, more than 3,000 people were waiting at the gates. Many carried flowers to honor the victims.

Spectator Tim Lyles of Lawrenceville summed up the mood: "It's our country. It's our games. It's our park. Nobody can take it away."

The same day, security guard Richard Jewell, who was hailed as the hero who spotted the backpack containing the bomb, was named as a suspect by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Throngs of reporters and photographers camped outside Mr. Jewell's apartment. FBI agents followed his every move. Three months later, federal officials cleared him.

"I felt like a hunted animal, followed constantly, waiting to be killed," Mr. Jewell said.

The FBI is now offering a reward of up to $500,000 for information that helps catch the bomber.

On May 11, the Florida Everglades swallowed ValuJet Flight 592 as it plunged into the swamp shortly after leaving Miami for Atlanta. All 110 people on board died - about 40 of them from Georgia.

Federal investigators suspect a fire that crippled the plane was started by oxygen-generating canisters that were mislabeled as empty by a maintenance contractors.

Safety questions raised by the crash resulted in a 15-week grounding of Atlanta-based ValuJet, which had wowed the airline industry with its rapid growth.

ValuJet returned to the air Sept. 30 and customers who snatched up the special $19 fares were greeted by high-fiving employees in a terminal festooned with balloons.

"If ValuJet employees can be on the brink of losing their jobs and still stick with it and come back fighting, it's the least I can do," said Gary Brown, who took off from work just to fly to Washington and back.

In September, children of former presidents John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter tied the knot in Georgia - though not with each other.

In a small ceremony in Plains, Amy Carter married computer consultant James Wentzel, whom she'd met while working at an Atlanta bookstore.

And John F. Kennedy Jr. - once dubbed "The Sexiest Man Alive" - got hitched to longtime girlfriend Carolyn Bessette in a secret service on Cumberland Island.

On Jan. 8, a janitor at the University of Georgia found an infant's body in a dormitory trash can. The newborn had been stabbed in the heart. Calling him Jonathan Foundling, about 150 mourners buried him with a stuffed animal, a blanket and a hand-carved reindeer. Police have not found his parents.

The Georgia Lottery took on a new gamble in August when it dumped the twice-weekly megajackpot Powerball drawing for a similar multistate lottery - the Big Game.

The state held back-to-back executions in November, when killers Larry Lonchar and Ellis Wayne Felker were electrocuted on consecutive days.

University of Georgia President Charles Knapp announced in November he would leave the university after 10 years to head a Washington-based think tank.

In Macon, three militia members were convicted Nov. 6 of conspiring to stockpile bombs for a war with the government. Militia leader Robert Starr III and members Troy Spain and Jimmy McCranie will be sentenced in January or February.