A nobody, then the Hero of the Olympic Park Bombing, then the Villain of the Olympic Park Bombing, and finally back to a nobody again.
An overweight man in his 30s who lived with his mom, Jewell wanted to be a cop, and from what I understand, he just didn't have what it took, so he settled for being a security guard. And he got a good gig -- he was going to get to guard some of the functions at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia.
One of his assignments was to guard Centennial Olympic Park during a concert on July 27. Jewell noticed an unattended knapsack, called his superiors, and began moving people away from the area, just in case it was a bomb, which, of course, it was. It exploded, killing one person, injuring over one hundred others, and sending the Olympics into a panic. Jewell was hailed as a hero, since more people would have died if they'd been closer to the bomb.
But police officers are trained to suspect everyone, especially in a case this big, and the FBI heard certain things that made them wonder if Jewell might not be the bomber himself. There were whispers that he owned a knapsack similar to the one that contained the bomb, that he bragged to friends that he would soon be famous, that he experimented with making pipebombs, that he took an uncharacteristic break on the night of the bombing. Eventually, all were either explained or found to be false, but at the time, Richard Jewell made a very credible suspect.
Unfortunately, the FBI focused their investigation solely on Jewell within only a few days of the bombing. They secretly taped conversations with him. They searched his mother's home, taking away everything from guns to Tupperware to Disney videos. They dragged the investigation out for almost three months, searching the house repeatedly, never finding any physical evidence to tie Jewell to the bombing. Perhaps most damaging, they leaked his name to the press, who immediately leaped on Jewell as THE guilty party. Numerous reporters and camera crews camped outside of Jewell's home for weeks, making it almost impossible for him to go outside. The publicity made it extremely difficult for him to get a job. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in particular, seemed to have already decided that Jewell was guilty, at one point comparing him to convicted Atlanta serial killer Wayne Williams. Most other news sources at least qualified their accusations by noting that Jewell was not yet an official suspect.
Three months after Jewell's ordeal began, amid mounting criticism of their handling of the case, the FBI released a statement saying that he was no longer a target of the investigation. Jewell and his attorneys began legal actions against the FBI and various news organizations, particularly the Journal-Constitution and NBC. He settled his suits against NBC, CNN, and others, but his legal challenge against his hometown paper was less successful -- it's extremely difficult to prove libel. He still had trouble finding work, despite the fact that his exoneration by the FBI should have re-established him as a hero.
The Olympic Park bomber was actually a guy named Eric Rudolph, a psychotic masquerading as a Christian, who later bombed a gay nightclub and an abortion clinic. He went into hiding in the mountains in North Carolina for several years before being captured. His motive for the Olympic bombing is fairly murky but is likely related to a dislike of foreigners and non-whites and fear of the so-called "New World Order."
In 2006, Georgia governor Sonny Perdue honored Jewell as a hero. Jewell died on August 29, 2007 after being diagnosed with diabetes. There should be statues of this guy, and there aren't, and that's wrong.