The rain came down hard on the morning after and brought new
life to some struggling vendors who were introducing their new
line of umbrellas and ponchos for $5 apiece, two for $8.50. The
sidewalk preachers and ticket scalpers returned to the front
lines, warning passersby to act now or miss out on eternal life
and/or the badminton final. The soldiers and police officers,
who probably hadn't gotten an hour's sleep between them, looked
fresh and ready despite it all.
It had been nine hours since a pipe bomb had blown a hole in the
middle of the Olympic Games, and slowly the tidal wave of
humanity returned to the streets. The joy and revelry had been
ripped from the heart of downtown Atlanta, but most people were
absolutely in step with the Olympic officials who decided not to
delay the Games in the wake of the tragic bombing. To play on
was the only option, the only answer. A postponement or a delay
of any kind would have assured the perpetrator a place in
history, an evil asterisk in the Olympic record book.
A coward may have killed two people in Centennial Olympic Park
early yesterday morning, but as the day wore on, the crowds
seemed determined to show that he couldn't kill the spirit of
two million more. Most everyone went about their day as if it
were their only way to fight back.
Mike Brennan, a technical writer from Minnesota, went to the
badminton competition in the morning and was headed to the water
polo venue in the afternoon. He was forced to wait in a long
line in the morning and his camera was thoroughly searched, but
like most fans, he wasn't complaining. "You don't want one
madman with a single-digit IQ sitting at home thinking, Hey, it
worked. I won," said Brennan. "I think every American would say
the same thing."
July 27, 1996
The attack occurred in the primary public gathering place of the
Olympics, a place without metal detectors or security
checkpoints. No money or official credential was required to
visit Centennial Park, and as a result, the people simply poured
in until there was no room to move. In the aftermath of the TWA
Flight 800 disaster, it was impossible to walk through the park
and not think, How frightening it would be ... how devastating
...how easy. Of course, the most amazing thing of all about the
bombing was that there were only two fatalities, one the result
of a heart attack.
Naturally, the events of the early morning allowed Atlanta's
religious zealots to hit the streets running, shouting even
louder and interpreting the attack as an act of God. Patrick
Johnston, a medical student from Florida, arrived in town early
yesterday and immediately began passing out pamphlets and
preaching to the mostly amused masses. "We are doing just what
the police did last night," he said. "They gave people warning
that a bomb was going off and they saved lives. We are here to
warn everyone that Judgment Day is coming." Johnston was joined
at the corner of Walton and Spring by his fiancee, Florida State
student Elizabeth Martin, who wore an orange sandwich board that
admonished "masturbators, fornicators, pot smokers" and other
doers of evil deeds. She shouted that the bomb was proof that
God "was coming for all the sinners." Passersby stopped and
snapped her picture as if she were a tourist attraction, and a
large crowd gathered.
Behind her, the police stood guard at the barricades marking the
perimeter of the crime scene, and everyone in Atlanta wondered
what must be done now. Bomb threats continued to be called in
for various sites, including the crowded Underground mall, which
was immediately evacuated. Some people called for more cops,
more security, more fences, more metal detectors, but already an
unprecedented force of 30,000 uniformed personnel, the largest
peacetime force in U.S. history, protects this city. Already
security is frighteningly visible and intimidating.
They can close Centennial Park to the general public, but that
won't make the crowds disappear. It will only move them back.
"Look at this," said Brennan, surveying the mob at the edge of
the barricades. "If someone wanted to, they could drop a bomb
here. And then what?" And then you hunt the killer down and
punish him. Beyond that, all you can do is go on with life and
with the Olympic Games. To not play would be to lose.