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Eric Rudolph Caught in North Carolina

Aired May 31, 2003 - 14:00   ET


SOPHIA CHOI, CNN ANCHOR: It started with a routine police patrol and it ended with the arrest of what could be one of America's most notorious terrorists. Hello, I'm Sophia Choi at the CNN Center in Atlanta and this is "CNN Live Saturday." We'll have more on the capture of Eric Rudolph in just a moment but first other stories at this hour.

CHOI: And updating our top story, police say they have their man. Eric Rudolph is now in police custody in North Carolina after five years on the run. Authorities say Rudolph has a long resume of terror, dating back to the Olympic Park bombing here in Atlanta seven years ago. According to the FBI, Rudolph has already been charged in four attacks that killed two people and injured at least 150.

On July 27, 1996, a bomb went off as thousands of people packed Centennial Olympic Park just across from the CNN Center. The blast killed one woman, from Albany, Georgia, and injured more than 100 others. The FBI has linked Rudolph to this attack. Six months later, Rudolph was linked to a blast at a women's clinic in suburban Atlanta that injured seven people there, and the following month, he was linked to the bombing of a gay nightclub in Atlanta. Authorities have also tied him to a blast that killed a policeman at a women's clinic in Birmingham, Alabama.

Rudolph dodged the law for years, but earlier today in Murphy, North Carolina, a local police officer spotted Rudolph loitering behind a shopping center. Police say Rudolph tried to run but stopped when that officer pulled his weapon. A fingerprint check verified that the man arrested is indeed Eric Rudolph.

The capture of Eric Robert Rudolph is being heralded as just good old-fashioned police work. Thousands of hours were put in by federal, state and local authorities to catch this suspected bomber, but it took one small town cop to take him down, and CNN's Mike Brooks is live from Murphy in the mountains of North Carolina with more -- Mike.

MIKE BROOKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Sophia, great story. An officer with less than a year on the job, 21-year-old Officer J.S. Postell actually is the one who put the cuffs on him and locked up Eric Rudolph, one of the most -- one of the top 10 FBI fugitives.

Now, it all happened this morning at the shopping center on the east end of Murphy, North Carolina. The officer was on routine patrol. He noticed a man acting suspicious behind the shopping center. As he approached him, he took off running. He ran a short distance, hid behind some milk crates. The officer approached him, drew his weapon, ordered him to the ground. Backup units arrived, and they arrested him.

Now, they thought he might be trying to break into one of the stores, that's why they initially stopped him. They took him back to the station. Talked to him, interviewed him and he said initially that his name was Jerry Wilson. Now, one of the deputies here with the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office here in Murphy here said he recognized him as Eric Rudolph. They further interviewed him, he later said that he was, in fact, Eric Robert Rudolph.

They took his fingerprints, sent them to the FBI Center in West Virginia, and it came back with a positive identification that he was, in fact, the wanted fugitive, Eric Robert Rudolph.

Now, they said at the time of his arrest that he had on a dark work shirt, work pants. He had a backpack, a large flashlight and was wearing also had a camouflage BDU (ph) military-type jacket.

Now, where he was living for the five years, it's unknown. They believe that he was here in the Murphy, North Carolina area, and the question has been asked also, Sophia, was there anyone here locally that was helping him hide out? They have not yet said if they believe that there was some help or not. That is still an ongoing investigation, and the FBI wouldn't comment further.

Now, also, Sophia, the FBI agent who we talked to from Charlotte, North Carolina, said there are other officers coming here to Murphy right now as part of the evidence response team. So that would mean to me as a former member of the evidence response team with the FBI, that would mean to me that there is additional evidence that they want collected here and hopefully we'll be able to find out exactly what that evidence is -- Sophia.

CHOI: And the woods there have been cordoned off, you said earlier?

BROOKS: Well, there is an area right behind the shopping center that they did put up police line tape. There were officers over there when our crew went out and shot back behind the Save-a-Lot store where he was found.

Now, also some -- there is a very, very wooded area, very rural here in Murphy, North Carolina. Mountainous region here. So there's a possibility that he could have been anywhere in and around the Murphy, North Carolina area.

Now, the other thing, he had a large flashlight with him. Now, as we know batteries don't last five years. When someone is on the run, batteries don't last that long at all. So someone had to be resupplying him with batteries, or he had to come out into public and go get it himself -- Sophia.

CHOI: There is still a lot of investigating to do in this case. in the meantime, it's surprising that deputy recognized Eric Rudolph because his looks have changed so much. He's got a shorter haircut and he is a lot thinner.

BROOKS: They said he is a lot thinner than the pictures they'd seen. Officers around here have been looking at his picture for a long time. They know his face. And we talked to the mayor, who actually saw him, and he said he looked a lot thinner than his pictures.

We hope to get a picture of Eric Rudolph very soon, his mugshot that they shot here in Murphy, but the mayor said he did have a distinctive scar on his chin. And that has been also on the wanted posters that that was one of the distinguishing marks was a scar on the chin of Eric Rudolph.

So, again, Eric Rudolph in custody after five years on the lamb for allegedly being involved in a number of different bombings in and around the Atlanta area and also in Birmingham, Alabama -- Sophia.

CHOI: All right, I want to bring in Henry Schuster, CNN senior producer. He has been following this case pretty much from day one. Henry, you got some comments and a question for Mike.

HENRY SCHUSTER, CNN SR. PRODUCER: Well, Mike, maybe you could give us more detail about their plans on questioning Eric Rudolph. Whether they'll do that there or whether they will wait until he moves to Ashville (ph), North Carolina. And who would be doing that questioning? Because a lot of people who -- it's been a long investigation. There are a lot of people, I know you yourself back actually worked on it. There were a lot of people -- who gets first crack at him?

BROOKS: Well, I was asking the FBI. We know that the FBI does have jurisdiction on the investigative side of things. Now, the ATF has taken over, when all of the evidence was turned over from the bombings from the FBI to the ATF. So they're going to be handling the forensic side of things. We know there was a pipe bomb at Centennial Park and the improvised explosive devices that were used at the other location were a dynamite-based explosive, not like a pipe bomb, but the ATF will continue their investigation on that.

Now, the FBI evidence response team is coming here to collect additional evidence. What that is, we don't know. Now, we don't know if he has been -- if he's been interviewed right now by FBI agents here. They said that either today or tomorrow he will be moved to Asheville, North Carolina, for an arraignment on the initial charges on Monday. So right now, we don't know, Henry, if the interview has been done by the FBI, but I'm assuming from the investigative background it would be done by the FBI and most likely the ATF -- Henry.

SCHUSTER: One more question, when you talk about the evidence of the response team coming in, a lot of people that we talk to who were members of the task force have always said, if there's one place they want to really get to is his bomb factory, it's the bomb factory that they believe Eric Rudolph had. They think that what's in there will provide a lot of clues. Tell us about what they'll be looking for and what precautions they will be taking frankly before they even go in? BROOKS: Well, we know exactly -- we know what bomb was made up in Centennial Park. It was three fairly large pipe bombs with nails, smokeless powder. It was in a backpack with a plate. A heavy metal plate that was actually supposed to push the blast out.

Now, apparently that backpack had gotten kicked over and it went up, luckily it went straight up into the air and they were lucky there was only one death that was involved, and a number of injuries.

What they are going to be looking for are any bomb components. Anything at all. And if they find a place where he has been living, they're going to go over that with a fine tooth comb. They are going to be looking for anything related to what they have already, the known evidence, they're going to be looking for any hairs, fibers, anything that could possibly contain any DNA evidence that could link him to this. They are going to be looking for anything at all that they can take back as evidence.

Now, they will use caution. I can guarantee you from doing searches myself, that when they approach any area like this, because of his background with explosives and the improvised explosive devices he's made in the past, Henry, that they will approach that with caution and they will have most likely bomb techs coming here from the FBI and most likely the ATF -- Henry.

CHOI: Because you never know what could be booby-trapped in those areas at that point.

BROOKS: Absolutely.

CHOI: All right, Mike Brooks thank you so much.

Eric Rudolph faces federal charges in a 23-count indictment. Attorney General John Ashcroft says Rudolph will face American justice. Ashcroft also says, quote, "American law enforcement's yielding efforts to capture Eric Robert Rudolph have been rewarded. Working with law enforcement nationwide, the FBI always gets their man. It sends a clear message that we will never cease in our efforts to hunt down all terrorists, foreign or domestic, and stop them from harming the innocent."

Ashcroft went on to say that "the American people, most importantly the victims of these terrorist attacks, can rest easier knowing that another alleged killer is no longer a threat."

But just who is Eric Robert Rudolph? And what would make him allegedly carry out the bombings? This is exclusive home video of Eric Rudolph. He's a Florida native who, back in 1981, moved to western North Carolina. Rudolph is believed to follow a white supremacist religion that's against gays, Jews and internationals. Although he was in the military, he's also believed to be anti- government.

With more on the background of Rudolph and just how he managed to elude authorities for so long, we go now live to CNN's Art Harris, who has been covering Eric Rudolph and his story for years now -- Art. ART HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sophia, one of the interesting things, how was he able to hide? The FBI had a hard time getting close to people who knew him. Several close friends, I'm told, shared some of his anti-government views. And one source tells me that there was a confidential informant in the mountains who supposedly was working with agents, but as we've seen, it took a lucky break rather than any information and a massive manhunt that brought in Eric Rudolph.

Who was he? Someone who loved solitude, loved the woods. Would disappear on Christmas Day while kids were playing with their toys, he went into the woods with very light clothing and would not come back for three days at a time, I'm told. He was able to survive off the land, knew animals, could hunt and fish.

When I was walking through the woods with some trackers, I was noticing that some of the trees were burned at the base. And at some point they had to look at the fires, and they decided that these were trees that hunters had smoked -- had started fires in to smoke out raccoons. Well, there were other trees that they believed Eric Rudolph had used at the base to start his fires so that the smoke could be hidden.

These were very, very thick forest and he knew them like the back of his hand. Who was he? He was someone who had seen his father die at a very young age. He was 14, and his father died of cancer, his mother wanted to use a controversial treatment called Layatril (ph), made from apricot pits, and the doctor did not think that this would work. It had never been proven to work in the past, and his father died, and so he blamed the government, according to the profile, for his father's death, and perhaps over the years, it's believed that worked out his anger and frustration through the hatred of so many minorities, and then later in bombs that were set to not only target people, but to target police -- Sophia.

CHOI: And, Art, I know we learned from just talking with people who knew him that even if he didn't hate you, he didn't necessarily get along with you. I mean, he really was a loner and he really turned off a lot of people.

HARRIS: He was, shall we say, he was not politic in the things that he said. He would be watching television with his family and friends and he would start ranting -- he would talk back to the TV, whether it was a talk show, whether it was a movie, whether it was a news report about something he disagreed. His family tells me that he would just explode, and he also, in his hatred of Jews, for example, he called the television, the, quote, "electronic Jew," because this was, he thought that Jews controlled the media. He had carved a Jewish star into a piece of furniture in his home. So his hatreds were wide ranging and not zeroed in on anyone specific. He seemed to hate almost anything and everything, Sophia.

CHOI: And from talking with his family, do you get the sense that perhaps, they too, were not too thrilled with the -- any authority figure? That they were kind of anti-government as well? And maybe perhaps that's where he got some of this? HARRIS: Well, some of them did share his views. A brother in horrific event, actually to show solidarity, cut off his own hand on videotape. It was never aired. But this was to show Eric that he supported him while he was on the run. So this is a family that in many cases stuck together, was very tight-lipped and did share his views in growing up -- Sophia.

CHOI: All right, Art, I want to bring in Henry Schuster. You know him. The senior CNN producer. He's been following this case, just like you and have, and he's got some comments now.

SCHUSTER: Actually, as you discovered when we were finding out about the sort of life and times of Eric Rudolph, one of the things that you would least think about is Eric had a girlfriend, especially for a long time he was quite serious about. I wonder if you could tell our viewers a little bit more about that.

HARRIS: Well, this was someone who he supposedly -- he treated her very, very specially. And she was in Nashville, and he would go down to see her and got very close to her.

And for some reason, it didn't work out. He wanted to have a life in the mountains, in the rural areas. She was a city girl, and it's hard to tell if his heart was broken, but he was a good-looking guy, and over the years, I'm also told that there were a number of women who had possibly offered to help him while he was on the run. We don't know if he actually got help from any of them, but he had a strange appeal to some women, but he was also supposedly a gentleman, Henry, as you remember. And it's a strange -- a strange mystery here about a guy who, who on one hand had this penchant for violence but could be a quote, "southern gentleman" on the other hand.

CHOI: CNN's Art Harris, thank you so much. We'll check back with you in just a bit. Coming up right here, CNN's special coverage of the Eric Rudolph capture, after this short break. And we'll also take a look at President Bush on the road in Europe this weekend, celebrating the splendor of a regal city.


CHOI: Updating our top story now. Police nab Eric Rudolph. Police and the FBI say they've capture the man they think is responsible for a string of terrorist attacks over the past seven years.

Eric Rudolph was taken into custody in Murphy, North Carolina, at around 4:30 a.m. Eastern time. A Murphy police officer on routine patrol spotted Rudolph near a supermarket. Rudolph reportedly tried to run, but stopped when Officer J.S. Postell pulled his gun.

Eric Rudolph is the prime suspect in the 1996 Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta. That blast killed one person and injured more than 100. Another man died from a heart attack shortly after the bombing. Six months later, Rudolph was linked to the bombing of a women's clinic in suburban Atlanta that injured seven people. The following month, he was linked to the bombing of a gay nightclub in Atlanta. And authorities have also tied him to a blast that killed one person at a women's clinic in Birmingham, Alabama.

The bomb that shattered Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park in 1996 really overshadowed the summer games and still haunts the city to this day. CNN's Martin Savidge joins us from the site of the attack, where, Martin, you can really still see some reminders of the attack.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You can. You can see the reminders and also feel the presence here that has hung over Olympic Centennial Park since that faithful night, of July 27 in 1996.

We brought you back to this remarkable day to the scene of the crime, as it were, where it was all began tragically. And I'm joined by Ken Alexander who was the chief prosecutor at the time, U.S. attorney. Thank you very much for being with us.


SAVIDGE: Take us back. Visually here in this park. I know it's changed somewhat, but how was it laid out that time, that night?

ALEXANDER: Sure happy to do that. It's actually changed a lot. If you look up here in this direction, there was a light towers, about two, three stories high. At the bottom of the light tower were benches and there was a bomb was underneath there. These trees weren't here. The fountains weren't here. It was more large tents, a lot of partying. There was Bud World. There was a Swash (ph) pavilion. Just a lot of people milling around.

SAVIDGE: You equated it to like Christmas Eve at a mall. Literally packed.

ALEXANDER: It was absolutely packed. There were just thousands of people around at any given time, and the bomb went off in the wee hours of the 27th, and there were still a lot of people here with bands going and you had light cameras on -- sorry, cameras on with people going, so in a 10-second period you might have over 100 people who passed by.

SAVIDGE: Let's walk this way, because there is part of the crime scene here, part of the park is this fan here, this piece of artwork that was actually dedicated in June of 1996 just before the Olympics. And today, visually still a reminder of what happened here.

ALEXANDER: Yes, this was here during the Olympics. And it was -- it is very much a visual reminder because we're almost standing on the spot where Alex Hauthborne (ph), who was killed by the blast, stood as she was walking out.

And when you look around here you could see shrapnel went everywhere, at the time you could see that. But right now, for these purposes this was here and you could even see nail holes still in here. I am assuming this is a nail hole right here, from the blast. You can see the shape of the nail. There are also nicks around the rest of the statue.

SAVIDGE: You found this evidence all over down here?

ALEXANDER: There was shrapnel really everywhere in Olympic Park and beyond. There was shrapnel on top of 15- and 20-story buildings like the Inform (ph) building right there. There was people all around who were hit by shrapnel. We hear about the one person who died, and that was the biggest tragedy of it all, but literally over 100 people were injured and being rushed to Grady Hospital and elsewhere, Emory physicians and others were working on them throughout the night. It was like a war scene. It was like out of the streets of Jerusalem after a car bombing.

SAVIDGE: And as bad as it was you believe it actually could have been worse?

ALEXANDER: It actually could have been much worse. The bomb was underneath, as I said, the bench under the light tower. There were some people kicking it and doing some things beforehand. So the position had changed. The way that the bomb blew up, it blew up into the air and the shrapnel spread out. So some of it hit, went ground level, but a lot of it went up. That is why some was on top of this building. Had it been faced, as I suspect it may have been, so the blast went straight out, we wouldn't have been talking about 100 injured, we would have been talking about over 100 dead. So it was just fortuity somebody came around and kicked the thing.

SAVIDGE: You have moved on in you life, now chief legal counsel for Emory University here in Atlanta. But how did the news of the arrest of Eric Rudolph strike you?

ALEXANDER: I was just elated. I'd come back from picking up my daughter at a birthday party, and my wife had told me call after call to turn on the news. I felt like Jim Belvano (ph) winning the final four or something, except I was not responsible of finding him at all, but I just wanted to hug my wife, yell, scream, call anybody I could. I was happy for law enforcement, because law enforcement's taken some hits on this one. Is he really in North Carolina? Is he not? Well, he was. The media played a nice role of getting Rudolph's picture out there. I was happy for Richard Jewell now, people I think finally realize...

SAVIDGE: That was another name I was going to bring up. Where does Richard Jewell now fit in the equation here with the arrest?

ALEXANDER: I think he fits did as he did in the beginning, as a hero. He and GBI Agent Tom -- and I forgot Tom's last name, I'm sorry -- found this and started to clear the area out, and even with the runt (ph) bomb positioned to go mostly up, had they not cleared people out, I think more people would have died.

So I am happy for him. He has been cleared. I wrote the letter saying he wasn't a target, but I think this has to be nice day of vindication for him, but more importantly, I think, it's based on the international stage that the Olympics found itself on, the death and the tragedy were not nearly the level of the World Trade Center or anything like that, or even a bomb in Jerusalem. It was -- the fact that someone's been caught who is charged with this heinous crime, it makes me feel good and I think it should make everybody feel good.

SAVIDGE: Ken Alexander, thank you for joining us here at Olympic Centennial Park. Many people have come down here from time to time, poising in front of this art work here, remembering what happened now almost seven years ago -- Sophia.

CHOI: I don't think none of us can forget. Thank you very much, Martin.

There's plenty of background information about the bombings and the search for Rudolph on our Web site. All you have to do is log on to Our AOL keyword is CNN.

And coming up right here, CNN's Mike Boettcher will gives us an in-depth look at Eric Rudolph. Also, President Bush's tour of Europe and the Middle East is off to a very busy start. He's in Russia after a stop in Poland. We'll have the latest.


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