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Heart disease killed former security guard Jewell
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ATLANTA — Former security Richard Jewell, who was wrongly linked to the deadly bombing at the 1996 Summer Olympics, died of heart disease, Georgia’s chief medical examiner said Thursday.
Jewell, 44, who had diabetes and kidney problems, died Wednesday at his home in West Georgia.
An autopsy performed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation showed Jewell had severe heart disease and essentially had a heart attack, Dr. Kris Sperry told The Associated Press. Jewell’s diabetes contributed to the heart problems, Sperry said.
Despite the results, Sperry said the GBI planned toxicology tests because of the notoriety of the Jewell case so there “won’t be any open questions at the end of the day.”
There is no evidence drugs or alcohol contributed to Jewell’s death, Sperry said.
Jewell was initially hailed as a hero for spotting a suspicious backpack and moving people out of harm’s way just before a bomb exploded, killing one and injuring 111 others. But within days, he was named as a suspect in the blast.
Though eventually cleared in the Centennial Olympic Park bombing, Jewell never recovered from the shame of being wrongly linked to the bombing in the news media. Finally, a year ago, he was again hailed as a hero.
Gov. Sonny Perdue commended Jewell at a bombing anniversary event. “This is what I think is the right thing to do,” Perdue declared as he handed a certificate to Jewell.
Jewell said: “I never expected this day to ever happen. I’m just glad that it did.”
It was one of his last good days. Jewell was diagnosed with diabetes earlier this year and was recently on dialysis.
After the Olympics, Jewell worked in various law enforcement jobs, including as a police officer in Pendergrass, where his partner was fatally shot in 2004 during the pursuit of a suspect. As recently as last year, Jewell was working as a sheriff’s deputy in west Georgia.
For two days after the July 27, 1996, bombing, Jewell was hailed as a hero for shepherding people away from the suspicious backpack.
But on the third day, an unattributed report in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution described him as “the focus” of the investigation.
Other media, to varying degrees, also linked Jewell to the investigation and portrayed him as a loser and law-enforcement wannabe who may have planted the bomb so he would look like a hero when he discovered it later.
The AP, citing an anonymous federal law enforcement source, said after the Journal-Constitution report that Jewell was “a focus” of investigators, but that others had “not yet been ruled out as potential suspects.”
Jewell was never arrested or charged, although he was questioned and was a subject of search warrants.
Eighty-eight days after the initial news report, U.S. Attorney Kent Alexander issued a statement saying Jewell “is not a target” of the bombing investigation and that the “unusual and intense publicity” surrounding him was “neither designed nor desired by the FBI, and in fact interfered with the investigation.”
The episode led to soul-searching among news organizations about the use of unattributed or anonymously sourced information.
Eventually, the bomber turned out to be anti-government extremist Eric Rudolph, who also planted three other bombs in the Atlanta area and in Birmingham, Ala. Those explosives killed a police officer, maimed a nurse and injured several other people.
Rudolph was captured after spending five years hiding out in the mountains of western North Carolina. He pleaded guilty to all four bombings in 2005 and is serving life in prison.
Jewell sued several media organizations, including NBC, CNN and the New York Post, and settled for undisclosed amounts.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution never settled a lawsuit Jewell filed against it. That suit is set for trial in January.
The newspaper has stood by its coverage.
Jewell, in an interview with the AP last year around the 10th anniversary of the bombing, insisted the lawsuits were not about making money.
He also said at the time that Rudolph’s conviction helped clear his name, but he believed some people still remember him as a suspect rather than for the two days in which he was praised as a hero.
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