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Search continues for witness in clinic bombing

ATF agents continue a painstaking search for clues  

FBI agents look in western North Carolina

January 31, 1998
Web posted at: 10:01 p.m. EDT (2201 GMT)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (CNN) -- Federal authorities continued their search Saturday for a material witness to Thursday's fatal bombing at a Birmingham clinic where abortions are performed.

Eric Rudolph, a 31-year-old white male whose last known address was Marble, North Carolina, is the man sought by the FBI. He is the registered owner of a gray Nissan pickup truck seen near the clinic around the time of the blast.

On Saturday, dozens of federal agents searched for Rudolph in two counties in far western North Carolina -- Cherokee County, where Marble is located, and nearby Macon County. FBI agents questioned several people believed to be his friends and acquaintances, but there were no reported sightings of either Rudolph or his truck. A material-witness warrant was issued Friday for Rudolph.

"We want to talk to this guy really bad," said Earl Woodham, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Charlotte.

An all-points bulletin has been issued for the gray truck, which bears North Carolina license plate KND-1117.

Rudolph a witness, not suspect

near by clinic
A sign at a nearby clinic proclaims: "THIS CLINIC STAYS OPEN"  

Authorities have repeatedly stressed that Rudolph is only a witness -- not a suspect -- in the bombing. A Birmingham police officer moonlighting at the clinic as a security guard was killed by the bomb, and a nurse was severely wounded.

According to federal authorities, Rudolph was sought because someone saw his truck near the bombing site and wrote down the license plate number.

Kenny Cope, a deputy sheriff in Macon County, North Carolina, who knows Rudolph, said, "Eric's clean. As far as I know, he never got into any kind of trouble."

Appeal made for information

At a press conference in Birmingham Saturday, investigators made an appeal for help, asking anyone who was in the vicinity of the New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic on Thursday morning to contact police.

"Please don't assume that you don't have valuable information. The smallest amount of information could prove invaluable in this case," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Jones.

Officials also urged anyone who was at a McDonald's restaurant on 20th Street near Birmingham's Vulcan Park at around 8 a.m. Thursday -- after the blast -- to contact police. A gray truck matching the description of Rudolph's vehicle was seen at the restaurant at that time, Jones said.

Bombing scene scoured

Federal investigators have not released a photograph of Rudolph, saying that providing a photo was "not appropriate." Jones declined to answer questions about Rudolph's background.

Under sunny skies Saturday, investigators continued to painstakingly scour the bombing scene and surrounding neighborhoods, looking for tiny bits of the bomb and other clues. The area around the clinic will be closed off to the public for at least two more days, Jones said.

At one point, an Alabama state police helicopter arrived at the scene to fly evidence to an ATF forensic laboratory in Atlanta.

Wounded nurse on respirator

Emily and Jeff Lyons
Emily and Jeff Lyons  

The homemade, nail-laden bomb, which investigators say was designed to kill people rather than merely damage property, exploded outside of the clinic's front door Thursday morning.

The Birmingham News reported that a witness saw a man wearing a wig fleeing the area after the explosion. The man removed the wig as he ran, dropped it into a blue bag and got into a pickup truck, the paper said. Authorities have refused to confirm or deny that report.

The bomb killed Robert Sanderson, 35, and injured Emily Lyons, 41. Sanderson's funeral has been scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Monday in nearby Homewood.

Lyons' husband, Jeff, briefly addressed reporters Saturday. He said his wife was in critical condition and on a respirator. She lost her left eye and her right eye was badly damaged, he said.

"At a minimum, she will have to have surgery on her right eye," Lyons said. "I just hope she can see again."

Lyons said that he had read that Sanderson may have been between the blast and his wife, perhaps shielding her.

"I don't know if this is true or not," he said. "But if so, there are no words that I can give to thank him for the life of my wife."

Authorities downplay any link to Atlanta bombs

At Saturday's press conference, officials also sought to downplay media reports that the bombing could somehow be linked to three bombing incidents over the last 18 months in Atlanta, 150 miles to the east.

"I think you need to be careful about jumping to conclusions. It would be speculation," said James Cavanaugh of the ATF.

One woman was killed and nearly 120 other injured in the Atlanta attacks, which include an explosion at Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Olympics and blasts in early 1997 at a lesbian nightclub in Atlanta and at a clinic that performs abortions in the suburb of Sandy Springs.

"We've had about 185 bombings of clinics around the country. We're going to be talking to probably every one, not just Atlanta," Jones said.

In the wake of the Birmingham bombing, clinics that provide abortions throughout the Southeast have heightened security. Law enforcement officials continue to guard another clinic about a block from the blast site.

Correspondent Brian Cabell contributed to this report.


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