A Testament to the 'Human Spirit'
Thousands congregate to celebrate the reopening of Centennial Park
ATLANTA — The reopening of Centennial Olympic Park this week to a multitude of hymn-singing people is a symbolic victory in Atlanta's quest to reclaim the spirit of the Games.
Yet the presence of a cordon of police, some randomly searching bags, was a reminder of the security concerns that still loom over this proud Southern city.
Waving red carnations, thousands gathered at the early morning ceremony July 30 in a defiant repudiation of the terrorist act that interrupted the tenor of the Games - even as the FBI narrowed its search for the bomber.
"We're here to proclaim a victory ... to celebrate a victory of the human spirit," said former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, who delivered the memorial address. "We're sure that the 21st century will remember the joy, the wonderful, the celebration, the vitality of the people of the earth gathered in this park, and that we will define the future. Not with bitterness, not alienation, but with joy, happiness."
People from all over the world came to show their support. "I think it's wonderful the people are showing that one person can't shut it [the park] down for everyone else," says Vonnie Roff from Spartanburg, S.C., who attended the ceremony with her husband.
Security was stepped up, as police searched the bags of nearly everyone entering the park and stood watch around the perimeter. Meanwhile, the FBI continued to sift through hundreds of leads for the terrorist who bombed the 21-acre site.
Investigators are believed to be zeroing in on several Americans as potential suspects. David Tubbs, an FBI spokesman in Atlanta, said authorities have prepared composite drawings of "individuals who may have been seen in the area about the time of the explosion." But he stressed that they were not considered suspects. Mr. Tubbs also said there was no evidence that more than one person carried out the bombing.
Two men with ties to an Alabama militia group were reportedly among those who had been questioned, but they had not been declared to be suspects. After three days of scrutiny, however, the FBI shifted its focus away from the militia group.
Meanwhile, the Atlanta police department is fending off criticism that it took too long to warn security officers at Centennial Park about the bomb. The FBI released a transcript of the 911 call that warned Atlanta police of the bomb. The call was received 30 minutes before the explosion, but word of it was never relayed to officers at the scene before the bomb exploded. A partial evacuation in the park did occur, but only because police there stumbled upon the unattended knapsack that held the pipe bomb.
That issue is central to a controversy over the failure of the 911 operator to notify police at the scene. A computer log detailing the 911 call shows a 10-minute lag between the incoming call at 12:58 a.m. and the next notation of any action.
But none of this bowed the spirit of those who gathered on this cool, clear Atlanta morning. "It's got to go on," said Susan Hayman, a Canadian who arrived from Toronto last Friday and went straight to Centennial Park. She left the park less than two hours before the bombing. Anyway, she said, pausing on the way to a gymnastics event: "I'm thinking lightning won't strike twice."
Julie Shulze of Mariastein, Ohio, concurs. "We thought it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to come," she says. "We wanted our kids to see it. It makes you a little nervous, but they have a lot of security."
Others are still looking over their shoulder. "The security level has definitely increased," says David Denning of Wilmington, N.C. "They should have done it the first time. The park was a little too vulnerable."
Still others are used to the presence of so many uniforms. "We're used to high security; this is very normal," says Rajeev Chopra, who is visiting from London.