Earlier that evening, Cable News Network producer Henry Schuster 78C (above) had been at a dinner in memory of eleven Israeli athletes killed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics. He had befriended the victims' families while making a CNN documentary on the attack called "Guarding the Games."
An economics and history major at Emory with a master's degree in modern history from Cambridge University, Schuster had worked at CNN since 1981, a year after it was launched by Ted Turner as a twenty-four-hour-a-day breaking-news station. His investigative unit specialized in the coverage of international and domestic terrorism, and he had helped direct live coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. He had been reporting on security plans for the Atlanta Olympics for several months.
"I figured if something happened, it would be good for me to have all the contacts already," Schuster says. "The Olympics were being viewed as a possible platform for international terrorism because of what had happened in Munich."
Schuster had just gotten home from the memorial dinner when he received a call from his office about the bomb in Centennial Park. Immediately, he suspected it was terrorism of an even more shocking type.
"This was a pipe bomb, which smacked of domestic terrorism," he says.
For Schuster, a Georgia native who, with his wife, Sandra Huckaby 79N , was raising his young sons in an Atlanta suburb, the Olympic bombing was personal.
"This case began with an act of terrorism that was figuratively in our front yard," he says.
Over the next two years, Schuster would cover two more bombings in Atlanta--at Northside Family Planning Services in Sandy Springs, where abortions were performed, and at the Otherside Lounge, a popular gay bar--as well as a fourth and final attack in Birmingham.
"I tend to depersonalize events when I'm reporting on them, but the Sandy Springs attack was five minutes from my parents' house," says Schuster. "There was concern that any place could be a target."
Schuster wasn't the only member of the extended Emory community to be affected by the shockwaves of the blasts: Laura Douglas-Brown 95C 95G left Centennial Park an hour before the deadly explosion; Emory's General Counsel Kent Alexander, a U.S. attorney from 1994 to 1997, was the top federal prosecutor in Atlanta at the time of the attacks; Emory photographer Kay Hinton was working at the Otherside Lounge and witnessed the violence firsthand; and Atlanta trial consultant Andrew Sheldon 64C 68L worked with federal prosecutors on the Birmingham case.
The serial bombings ultimately would lead to one of the longest, most extensive manhunts in the country's history. After the Olympic bombing, it took nearly two years for survivalist and alleged white supremacist Eric Robert Rudolph to be identified as a suspect and five more years for him to be captured.
"There is no aspect of this story that I'd have the imagination to make up," says Schuster, who collaborated with Charles Stone, a longtime agent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, to write the just- released book Hunting Eric Rudolph: An Insider's Account of the Five-Year Search for the Olympic Bombing Suspect . "It surprised me at every turn."
It wasn't a clinic day at Northside Family Planning Services on January 16, 1997, so only three staff members were inside when the bomb went off around 9:30 a.m., shattering sixty windows and taking a chunk out of the side of the concrete block building. After police, federal investigators, and media arrived at the scene, a second bomb went off, injuring seven, including a cameraman whose eardrums were blown out by the explosion.
"The bomber was changing his profile ever so slightly," Schuster says. "He was using dynamite instead of gunpowder and this time planted two bombs instead of one. It left investigators uncertain if the Sandy Springs bomber had the same signature as the Centennial Park bomber. But Charlie [Stone] noticed that in both cases this guy seemed to be after law enforcement."
Five weeks later, on February 21, 1997, the next bombing took place at the Otherside Lounge. There were two pipe bombs this time, as well. Photographer Hinton was collecting the cover charge at the bar's front door around 10 p.m. when the first bomb exploded behind the bar's patio.
"It was the loudest thing I'd ever heard," Hinton says. "Literally, the whole building shook. There was so much pressure, I was pushed forward onto the cash register. It happened so quickly and everyone was so stunned--then there was this huge commotion. A couple of people walked by me and were bloody."
Five people were hurt; the most seriously injured had a nail embedded in her arm. When the bomb squad arrived, they found the second bomb alongside the club and detonated it remotely.
Although the bomber remained unidentified, he was sending ripples of fear throughout Atlanta. A letter signed by "The Army of God" had been mailed to local media offices after the Otherside bombing, announcing that "the attack in Midtown was aimed at the Sodomite Bar."
"I had been at Centennial Park the night it was bombed in July 1996, leaving just an hour before the explosion," says alumna Douglas-Brown, a writer at Southern Voice, Atlanta's gay weekly newspaper. "But while the park bombing was a closer call, the Otherside felt more personal. For the first time in my life, I felt the physical danger of being targeted for who I was."
On the morning of January 29, 1998, the fourth bombing took place at New Woman, All Women Health Care Clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, just as nurse Emily Lyons and off-duty police officer Robert Sanderson were opening the clinic. The bomb killed Sanderson immediately and critically injured Lyons--hundreds of nails ripped into her face and body, and she was blinded in her right eye.
Photos of the clinic taken after the bombing create a vivid picture of the trajectory of the deadly shrapnel. Investigators tied long strings of red yarn from the spot where the bomb exploded to each indention, embedded nail, and piece of metal in the building. The strings look like hundreds of laser beams shooting into the front of the clinic.
Trial consultant Sheldon keeps these photos in his office, along with a timeline of the bombings.
"See this area, where there's not much damage?" he asks, pointing to a space beside the front door that is relatively unscarred. "That's the part that was shielded by Emily Lyons' body."
Sheldon, who has a bachelor's degree in political science and a law degree from Emory as well as a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Georgia State University, says part of his job is trying to understand the psychological make-up of extremists like Rudolph. He believes that people who commit such violence in the name of their convictions often fall into the category of "true believers," a term coined by author Eric Hoffer in the 1950s.
"True believers don't ascribe to right and wrong except as it applies to their mission or their beliefs," Sheldon says. "I think that describes Eric Rudolph pretty well."
Whatever Rudolph's convictions, his luck had run out in Birmingham. A University of Alabama pre-med student saw a man in a cap carrying a backpack and walking calmly away from the clinic just after the bombing and decided to follow him. Both he and another man who joined in the chase were able to identify the North Carolina license plate number of Rudolph's truck.
"This is what changed the course of the investigation and provided the [smoking gun] that investigators in Atlanta had been talking about and hoping for," Schuster says.
Law enforcement quickly traced the truck to Eric Robert Rudolph, but finding his current address proved no easy matter. Rudolph's own family wasn't even sure where he was living. By the time his gray Nissan pickup was found abandoned near his trailer in Murphy, North Carolina, Rudolph had purchased six months' worth of provisions and fled on foot into the Nantahala National Forest.
Four months later, on May 5, 1998, Rudolph was placed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list and a million dollar reward was offered for information leading to his capture. Federal agents, police, and volunteers began scouring the woods with dogs, helicopters, and infrared radar. But Rudolph had spent fifteen years hiking and camping in these woods, and there were lots of caves and old mines to hide in.
"We were searching a half-million acres of pure wilderness," says GBI's Stone.
Schuster, who was covering the bombings and the investigation for CNN, pondered a looming question: Who was Eric Robert Rudolph?
"Why did he do it?" he asks. "What, or who, might have nurtured his hate to such a boiling point?"
Schuster set about trying to understand Rudolph's background and motivations--what was his family like, his childhood, his stint in the military? How did he justify killing innocent victims and bombing a gay nightclub even though his youngest brother, Jamie, was gay?
Having covered the Oklahoma City bombing, Schuster found "especially chilling" similarities between Rudolph and Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people when he bombed the Murrah Federal Office Building in April of 1995. Both were former soldiers, angry young white men with dangerous skills and a deep immersion in the world of white supremacy, neo-Nazism, and the militia movement.
"They might be lone wolves," Schuster wrote, "but it seemed they knew where the pack was and had spent some time there."
Stone interviewed Rudolph's mother, siblings, friends, and several former girlfriends. As head of the GBI anti-terrorist unit and a skilled negotiator, Stone would become the point man if Rudolph's capture involved a hostage or barricade situation, and he was searching for an understanding of what drove him, what his weaknesses were, and who he might listen to if they asked him to surrender.
"What we discovered, through all those interviews, is that Eric comes from a family no screenwriter could have invented," Schuster says.
As the fifth of six siblings raised by a mother who held fairly extreme views of her own, Rudolph and his family had moved from Florida to an isolated part of North Carolina in 1982 after his father died of cancer. They raised animals, tended a garden, and, being suspicious of the government, tried to live "off the grid." Rudolph's mother, Patricia, a former Catholic, had embraced the Christian Identity church, which maintains that white Europeans are the true chosen people, Jews are the spawn of Satan, and people of color are "mud people." Her son seems to have adopted some of these views at an early age.
"By ninth grade, Eric had written a term paper claiming the Holocaust never happened. He called television the 'Electric Jew,' " Schuster says. "And he thought abortion was the genocide of the white race. . . . It was possible to build a genealogy of hate, starting with the roots and soil that nourished Eric and following the branches of the family tree until you got to him."
But family background alone couldn't explain why Eric Rudolph had decided to use lethal violence against strangers. Rudolph's siblings ran the gamut from an older brother, Daniel, who--perhaps as a show of solidarity--had videotaped himself cutting off his own hand after Rudolph became a fugitive, to a younger brother, Jamie, a gay musician who lived in Greenwich Village.
"Why Eric and not Daniel, or even Jamie or Joel, all of whom were exposed to the same beliefs?" Schuster asks.
Rudolph never graduated from high school but got his GED and joined the military in 1987, intending to become a U.S. Army Ranger. It was there he learned to make bombs, says Schuster, but he was discharged before he finished his training, reputedly for insubordination and smoking pot. Rudolph returned to North Carolina, where, according to friends, he supplemented his income by growing and selling marijuana. He also continued another part of his education.
"Eric was a big reader," says Schuster. "He liked to read about Nazism, military history, the 'bibles' of the extremist fringes. . . . [and] The Little Black Book of Explosives."
As the manhunt stretched on through the years, and especially after the September 11, 2001 attacks, public attention--and CNN--focused on international terrorism. Schuster, who had covered al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden since 1997, produced the documentary "Terror on Tape," which uncovered al Qaeda's video archives, and "Kingdom on the Brink," about terrorism inside Saudi Arabia.
Rudolph, however, was always in the back of his mind. After Stone retired from the GBI in 1999, Schuster worked with him to produce a documentary on the Rudolph investigation and the continuing manhunt, "CNN Presents: The Hunt for Eric Rudolph."
Former U.S. Attorney Kent Alexander (above), who had been named senior vice president and general counsel for Emory in 2000, kept in touch with Schuster and others who were working the case.
"You never know how long it's going to take," Alexander says. "We had no idea if [Rudolph] was a pile of bones in a cave, or if he had fled the country."
O n May 21, 2003, after five years with no leads, no sightings, and no firm indication that Rudolph was even alive, an amazing and unexpected thing happened: Eric Robert Rudolph was captured while digging through a trash bin in the back of a Sav-A-Lot store in Murphy, North Carolina.
Stone got the news by six that morning, and called Schuster right away, who broke the story of Rudolph's arrest on CNN.
"After five-and-a-half years and $30 million, he was caught by a rookie officer while attempting to Dumpster dive," says Schuster.
In the days after Rudolph's capture, Schuster began to write his account of the case, getting up every morning before work and writing between 4:30 and 6:30 a.m.
"It took just six months. I had done 90 percent of the research already, " he said. "I wanted it to read like a novel--to let the mystery unfold."
The final twist in the saga, however, was still to come.
Rudolph was sent to the Jefferson County Jail in Birmingham while the U. S. Attorney's office prepared its evidence against him and his public defenders began building their strategy. But the case never went to trial.
On April 13, 2005, Rudolph pled guilty to each of the bombings--first in a federal courtroom in Birmingham and, later that day, in Atlanta--in order to avoid the death penalty.
"It was surreal," says Schuster, who attended both hearings. "It was a bizarre reunion of everyone involved in the case, from victims to federal agents to prosecutors to the media."
Emily Lyons, who had just had her nineteenth operation, and her husband were at both hearings, as was Alice Hawthorne's daughter, Fallon, now in her early twenties.
Kent Alexander was in the Atlanta courtroom in support of his former colleagues at the prosecution table.
"This case took my whole last year in office and then some," he says. "I wanted to see it through. From my seat, I had a straight-line view and was watching Rudolph during his plea. There wasn't a lot of emotion. He was a little smug."
As part of his plea agreement, Rudolph told investigators where he had hidden two hundred and fifty pounds of stolen dynamite and bomb components.
After formal sentencing this summer, Rudolph will be sent to the federal "Supermax" prison in Colorado, where he could spend up to twenty-three hours a day in isolation.
On the same day he made his plea, Rudolph released an eleven-page statement that read, in part, "because I believe that abortion is murder, I believe that force is justified in an attempt to stop it." He called homosexuality an "aberrant sexual behavior" which poses a threat to society and should be countered by force when "the attempt is made to drag this practice out of the closet and into the public square."
He addressed the attack on the Olympics by saying that "under the protection and the auspices of the regime in Washington, millions of people came to celebrate these [despicable] ideals of global socialism. . . . The purpose of the attack on July 27 was to confound, anger and embarrass the Washington government in the eyes of the world for its abominable sanctioning of abortion on demand."
Rudolph's statement "is just so much revisionism," says Schuster. "He thinks that playing the abortion card might win him some sympathy. He wants to rewrite his own history and put out a story that is palatable."
In point of fact, says Alexander, Rudolph is "simply a heinous criminal, even though he has gone to great lengths to paint himself as reasonable.
"At the end of the day, not many people want to die. Rudolph was willing to kill people for his beliefs, but when it came to his life, it was too precious. I think he'll find, however, that being by yourself in the beautiful North Carolina mountains is one thing, but being by yourself in a concrete block for the rest of your life is a whole different world."