“you know something baby?
when you walked into that room.
i could not believe my eyes.
ha ha ha looking so fine.
struttin across that floor.
and that little red skirt.
wooo ha ha”
Jack Mack And The Heart Attack – So Tuff
This was my first opportunity covering the Olympics with a very talented USAT and Gannett News Service team who came from around the country to Atlanta.
They were tired and hungry and spread out though the Waffle House, just across the street from our motel. It was close to midnight all were busy in conversation and opening their first beer while ordering.
I was offered the winter games in Lillehammer a couple of years prior and passed it to a talented colleague so I was excited to have a second chance.
I told myself that I would not miss a moment of this experience. I was so focused the first week that I forgot to call the girls. Anne was calm, for Anne, but there was no mistaking my lack of communication would not be repeated.
The Olympic Games were on television in each corner of the room when a “special alert” showing images of what looked like Beirut and not the Centennial Olympic Mall flashed on the screen. A bomb had gone off injuring over a hundred people and killing one. There was a few seconds of cold silence along with disbelief when the scramble for our bill and the door began.
In a moment of monetary weakness I heard myself yelling “Just go, grab equipment and go, head for the vans.” as I dug for my American Express card. “Just put those tables on the card.”
Lord did I realize that my card had to be paid at the end of the month and how will I explain this on my per diem?
The packed last van had room to squeeze me in and with an equal amount of money and threats; our driver was passing all others on the freeway.
The van was just slowing a block out when the doors swung open and everyone went flying to cover the story in all directions.
We just made it though most of the security but it was growing quickly and access was getting tight.
There were only two rules at the Photo meeting held before the games.
1. Don’t embarrass the company.
2. Photographers and Picture Editors, don’t let the Director of Photography ever see you without a camera..
I was holding a camera, but no strobe. I knew if I would have any success, I needed to stay with the light, and began walking towards the plaza.
You could smell the powder still in the air and see a light haze illuminated by the office lights.
I noticed a small group of people sitting on a curb in a small cul-de-sac.
As I got closer I could hear crying and saw a woman holding a young man with a napkin oozing blood from his forehead.
I asked if he was ok?
They were told to wait there for an ambulance.
Everyone just seemed to have an emotionless stare on their face and I backed off for a long shot using the street lamp for light.
I moved in closer but was shooting 2-4 seconds and knew I better head back to the office to be ready for photographers coming in with their film.
As I started for the office in the International Sports Plaza I worked my way to the back as police units were cutting off all movement.
They marched in a helmet and shield wall pushing everyone to the side and barricading all intersections.
I tried crossing the street towards the building and was pushed back by officers twice. I noticed a group of women in the crowd on the other side of the street and I started calling my wife’s name.
Both the officers and the women were looking around confused but I kept yelling “my wife, my wife, I need to get to her” pointing to the other side of the street. They relented and I made my run.
As soon as I was in the ground-level parking garage I felt a sense of relief…until I heard the metal and chain gates falling to the ground around me. The building was under lock down and every opening was now closed tight.
I made the elevator at the same time as an AFP photographer cursing in broken English only to find that the elevators, escalators and stairwells were also off.
Feeling defeated we walked around and spotted a third elevator half the size near the loading docks.
We pressed the button and jumped in finding the doors opening into the kitchen of one of the restaurants on the first floor, scaring the hell out of the cooks and serving staff.
Showing our ID they walked us through the bar and unlocked the front door. All eyes of the patrons never left us. It was if they were watching two terrorist given access to the main plaza.
Rounding the escalator I could see several of my colleagues banging on the front entrance trying to gain access to the building. They seemed to be a little relieved after seeing me run the flights of stairs on the escalator as security was running down yelling for us to stop.
At some point, I don’t remember my new French buddy splitting from me, but didn’t look back until I was in the darkroom tossing rollers into the Fuji film processor and firing it up.
Just as I hit the process switch a young GNS photographer was banging on the door with several rolls of film. I asked how he got in and he seemed dazed and out of breath. It was best just to get the film through the processor.
His images were strong and USAT was very anxious …and told me as such in constant communications. I lost track of time but it seemed like hours before the office started to fill,
Later in the day I heard that we beat the Associated Press by five minutes posting the first image from the bombing. Apparently at some point security had showed later in the afternoon looking for the guy that was running up the escalator breaking all their rules.
Not until much later did I have the opportunity to think about the fact that I had been sitting in the exact location where the bomb was left by Eric Rudolph hours earlier.
Both sad and ironic that the band playing that night was “Jack Mack and the Heart Attack” it was later learned that a video cameraman lost his life by heart attack running to cover the bombing…I never saw that roll of film again.