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Crime News Movies & TV

What Is The 'Jewell Syndrome' Coined After What Happened To Richard Jewell?  

Richard Jewell was falsely accused of planting a bomb at the 1996 Summer Olympics and the subject of a new movie.

By Gina Tron
Richard Jewell Warner Bros

The 1996 Olympic bombing was catastrophic enough on its own, but it’s aftermath was something so explosive it even has its own term. 

The ”Jewell Syndrome,” is considered a rush to judgment and the term has been coined and used since 1996, popular in newsrooms and first amendment online forums alike, according to a 1996 Vanity Fair piece. 

The syndrome continued to be used even after Richard Jewell was exonerated from being a suspect in the 1996 Summer Olympics, according to the Chicago Tribune. He was not exonerated until 2005 when the real bomber, Eric Rudolph was convicted.

Jewell was a security guard once eyed as a possible suspect behind the bombing at Centennial Park. In reality though, he was a hero. Because he spotted a multi-pipe bomb device packed with nails, hidden under a bench, the area immediately around the bomb was able to be cleared before it went off. One woman died as an immediate result when one of the nails went into her skull and a cameraman died from a heart attack as he rushed towards the blast. Another 111 people were injured — but Jewell's actions saved countless lives.

While Jewell was initially lauded as an American hero, he was soon eyed as a possible suspect.

“Within days, the law enforcement wannabe becomes the FBI’s number one suspect, vilified by press and public alike, his life ripped apart,” a Warner Brothers press release for Clint Eastwood’s new movie “Richard Jewell,” based on the case. 

The FBI began investigating Jewell, and Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs reported that he was being eyed as a possible suspect after an FBI source leaked information on the investigation to her, Vanity Fair reported. The FBI was actually tipped off by Jewell’s former employer who said that Jewell went overboard, and even impersonated a cop, while working as a school security guard.

Jewell was then swiftly destroyed in the media.

The New York Post called him both "a Village Rambo" and "a fat, failed former sheriff's deputy,” according to Vanity Fair. Meanwhile TV Host Jay Leno said,"What is it about the Olympic Games that brings out big, fat stupid guys?" 

Despite the media circus, Jewell was never officially named a suspect.

He was cleared 88 days after the bombing. The U.S. Attorney's office delivered a letter to Jewell which lifted official suspicion from him but offered no apology, CNN reported.

The new film shows how the quick rush to judgement in the eyes of the public affected Jewell and his mother Bobi, who he lived with.