ATLANTA -- With its investigative leads starting to dry up, the FBI has taken several steps, including the posting of a half-million-dollar reward, intended to generate tips that might solve the bombing at Centennial Olympic Park in July.
At a news conference yesterday afternoon, the first held by investigators since two days after the bombing, an FBI official also said a park visitor had slightly moved the backpack containing the bomb before it exploded, unknowingly changing its position in a way that sent much of its shrapnel skyward rather than horizontally toward the crowd.
"Had it been left in place, apparently, where the explosion would have directed parallel to the ground, we would have seen a huge number of casualties and many, many, many more people killed and injured than what actually occurred," said Weldon Kennedy, deputy director of the FBI.
Kennedy declined to say whether the FBI had learned of the pack's being "nudged" as a result of an interview with a witness or through the bureau's review of videotape of the scene. And he said he did not know the motive of whoever moved it.
The pipe bomb detonated on July 27 at 1: 20 a.m., about 23 minutes after a security guard, Richard A. Jewell, had pointed out the backpack to police. The explosion killed one woman and injured 111 other people among a crowd gathered in the park to enjoy a concert and celebrate the Summer Olympics. A Turkish cameraman died of a heart attack while covering the blast and its aftermath.
911 tape played
At the news conference yesterday, FBI officials for the first time played an audiotape of the anonymous 911 telephone call that warned in 11 dispassionate words that a bomb would soon detonate in the crowded park. They also displayed a replica of the olive military-style backpack, which had been placed under a park bench near an AT&T; sound and light tower.
Kennedy said investigators had used interviews, videotapes and photographs to determine that the backpack had been placed beneath the bench sometime from midnight to 12: 45 a.m. He also said that agents had painstakingly reconstructed the bomb and that it weighed more than 40 pounds, suggesting that the person carrying the bulky pack may have caught the attention of someone in the park.
Kennedy said investigators had reviewed thousands of photographs and hundreds of hours of videotape, but he asked that anyone in or near the park that night provide the FBI with film not already examined.
"We firmly believe that somewhere, someone has a photograph of the person carrying this bomb into the park," Kennedy said. "They may not know it. They may not realize they have it."
One federal official said the timing of the news conference was at least partly intended to secure valuable videotapes before owners recorded over them during the holidays. Kennedy said DTC anyone with film or other information about the bombing should call a toll-free number: (888) 324-9797.
The news conference came six weeks after the Justice Department announced that Jewell, who had quickly emerged as a suspect, was no longer a target of its investigation. Agents never found physical evidence linking him to the attack.
Kennedy said that the FBI had "had a number of suspects who've been looked at and eliminated thus far in this case" and that the investigation remained "one of our highest priorities."
No leading suspects
But he acknowledged that there were no leading suspects.
"We're not leaning in any particular direction at this point," he said, "because, again, we do not have the identity, or even suspected identity at this point, of the person or persons who did this act."
Kennedy said it was not clear whether the 911 telephone call, which was placed at 12: 58 a.m. from a pay phone several blocks outside the park, had been made by the bomber or an accomplice. The caller warned: "There is a bomb in Centennial Park. You have 30 minutes."
In the tape released yesterday, the caller's slow and deliberate words have few distinctive characteristics, with the possible exception of a slight Southern accent on the word "minutes." Kennedy said that "there was an effort apparently to disguise the voice." Kennedy said the FBI had not issued its new call for assistance earlier because it had not finished analyzing the evidence it had.
"It took us this period of time to be able to reconstruct what I've shown you here today," he said. "Once we were able to do that, we felt it was important to come forward to the public with that information."
FBI officials clearly hope the investigation will get a boost from the reward of up to $500,000, which is available to anyone providing information, photographs or videotape leading to the conviction of the bomber.
Pub Date: 12/10/96