The Lights Went Out in Georgia 1996 Atlanta Olympics
August 8, 2016
Southern Torch (3842 articles)
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The Lights Went Out in Georgia 1996 Atlanta Olympics

Dr. John E. Morgan, Pastor of Collinsville Baptist ChurchBy Dr. John E. Morgan

Pastor–Collinsville Baptist Church

It was a great family night in the middle of the celebration known as the Olympics.  My wife and I and two of our sons, aged 15 and 17, had ridden Marta into downtown Atlanta at the height of the Games. The area was full of people coming and going to events.  Tickets could be found for any event. We got one ticket to see the Dream Team play and a couple of tickets for Volleyball.    We were in the brand new Olympic Park, the triangle of land between the Omni, the Congress Center, the Georgia Dome and The Main Press Center where I was working during the Olympics.

The crowd was excited. There was a shared camaraderie in being at the Olympics.  We were all proud that Atlanta and the South had pulled it off. The Olympics were an obvious success.  A little Southern Pride had been well earned.  And the park was the place to be.  Kind of like a post game tailgate party after your team wins.

We walked around the park looking at displays and at children playing in the fountains.  At the north end of the park, music was coming from the bands and performers of the night.  We wandered over to where Olympic pins were being traded.  When our younger son came back from the basketball game, he was excited about seeing the Dream Team and sitting with Scottie Pippen’s brother during the game.

My wife and I left them in the park to have fun as I went to work.  We walked over to the Press Center where I was able to get her into the very restricted building.  Security was everywhere.  Uniformed guards at all the entries, all the elevators and everywhere around the floor.  You were never out of sight of security.

After a while, I was called to the entry.  Our sons were standing there.  Someone in the crowd had broken a beer bottle.  My younger son’s toe was cut open and was bleeding profusely.  The manager let our sons in to get help from the medical staff on the second floor.  The night of fun had been ruined by one person’s carelessness.  That made me mad.

The medics stopped the bleeding and bandaged the toe.  Our sons’ night of fun was over. We could hear the music still blaring just across the street.  It was after one in the morning.  Time for my family to leave. We started down the hallway.

And then the bomb exploded.  Our building shook as the noise reached us.  I knew what it was immediately.  We turned into the large corner room.  The walls were glass.  We walked over and looked down into the park.  The explosion had been about fifty yards from where we now stood.  We were looking down on the carnage as the crowd was still scattering.  Medical teams and security teams were rushing to the spot.

My first thought was that my sons would have been right there listening to the bands except for a broken bottle.  Coincidence?  Good luck? You can interpret it as you choose.  My wife and I choose to believe it is providential that our children were safe.  It is interesting that we can be angry about broken bottles in our lives.  And then thankful for them.  We are to trust God.  Even when we do not understand.

As we stared down at the Park, a man ran in the room and yelled at us to get away from the windows.  Now!  He was the chief of security in the building.  He knew that bombers sometimes set off a second, stronger bomb to kill more people.

We were surprised when we looked at TV to see coverage about the bomb.  There wasn’t any.  They didn’t know yet.

Our building was locked down.  Nobody in or out.  Our family spent the night in the building.  Thankful to be with each other.

There was a press conference about five.  The locked doors meant we were short handed.  My sons were drafted to help hand out head phones for reporters to get translations.

The Conference was very brief.  On the stage one of the officials looked into the television cameras and said, “First of all, the Games will go on.  I repeat.  The Games will go on.”  The conference lasted about three minutes.  We in the room knew that it was being seen all over the world.  We had pride in putting it together in such difficult circumstances.

The building was opened later in the morning.  We made our way back up the streets to catch the train to where our car was parked.  We had to make a block detour.  A bomb disposal unit was investigating a paper bag on the sidewalk.  It would have been ignored twelve hours earlier.

We knew that the Games would go on.  But we knew that something had changed.

Twenty years later I am still overwhelmed by the thought of how close two of our boys were to being next to that bomb.  We are thankful to have them.  And thankful for shared memories of that terrible, wonderful night.

Southern Torch

Southern Torch

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