One of the 10 Most Wanted Men in America has finally been captured.
Atlanta Olympic bombing suspect arrested
Victim: 'That's the ultimate goal, to see him in court'
MURPHY, North Carolina (CNN) --Olympic bombing suspect Eric Robert Rudolph -- wanted in bombings that killed two people and injured more than 100 in the Southeast -- was arrested early Saturday in western North Carolina, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft confirmed.
J.S. Postell, a rookie police officer in Murphy, North Carolina, found Rudolph behind a shopping center shortly before 4 a.m. EDT Saturday, Mayor Bill Hughes told CNN. Rudolph ran when Postell got out of his car, but halted when Postell pulled his weapon and ordered him to stop.
Saturday morning, an FBI source in Washington confirmed the fingerprints of the man Postell arrested matched those of Rudolph.
A former sheriff who saw Rudolph being questioned told CNN, "He just seemed relieved, and it seemed like he was cooperating."
Rudolph has been charged in the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta, 1997 bombings at a gay nightclub and a clinic that performed abortions in the Atlanta area, as well as the 1998 bombing at a clinic in Birmingham, Alabama. If convicted, he could face the death penalty. The decision is up to Ashcroft.
Rudolph, now 36, had eluded law officers for five years, despite a massive search in the North Carolina mountains that involved hundreds of law enforcement officers and cost millions of dollars.
The last known sighting of Rudolph was in July 1998, when he tried to buy food and other supplies from health food store owner George Nordmann. Nordmann told authorities that he decided not to help Rudolph. Two days later, Nordmann said he came home and found that 75 pounds of food and his truck were missing. Five $100 bills were on his table. Nordmann's truck was found a few days later.
In a statement Saturday, Ashcroft called Rudolph "the most notorious American fugitive on the FBI's 'Most Wanted' list."
"This 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," he said.
Rudolph disappeared after his pickup truck -- first spotted near the scene of the Birmingham attack on January 29, 1998 -- was found abandoned in the North Carolina woods not far from where he was captured Saturday.
The FBI put Rudolph on its "Ten Most Wanted" list and offered a $1 million reward after that attack.
The blast killed off-duty Birmingham police officer Robert Sanderson, who was working as a security guard at the clinic, and seriously injured nurse Emily Lyons, who was on her way in to work.
Lyons, who lost an eye and was permanently disabled, told CNN Saturday that she always believed that Rudolph was still alive and hiding in North Carolina, and that she was hopeful that "this was the real thing, this time."
She said she hoped to see Rudolph in court and ask him "Why?"
"What was it that you picked that day, that place, for what purpose?" she said. "Why did you do the Olympics? Why did you do to the others in Atlanta? What were you trying to tell everybody that day?"
"That's the ultimate goal, to see him in court, possibly to talk to him and to see the final justice done," she added.
Rudolph also was wanted in connection with the July 1996 bombing at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, which killed Alice Hawthorne, a 44-year-old Albany, Georgia, woman and injured more than 100 people.
He was also being sought for the double bombing outside a suburban Atlanta women's clinic in January 1997 and another at an Atlanta gay nightclub in February 1997. There were several injuries in the incidents, but no one was killed.
Both the women's clinic and nightclub bombings involved secondary bombs designed to go off later than the first, after law enforcement personnel had arrived on the scene. Seven people were hurt in the second bomb at the clinic; authorities found the second bomb at the nightclub and disabled it.
Federal investigators have long believed Rudolph was hiding in the Nantahala National Forest of western North Carolina, where he had spent his teenage and young adult years.
The Southeast Bomb Task Force -- formed to investigate the bombings -- kept a presence in the area, at times with as many as 200 federal agents combing a 500,000 acre mountainous and heavily-wooded area.
Former FBI agent Don Clark told CNN today was "a great day.
"It gives you chill bumps, quite honestly, because all of us across the country, not just the East Coast people, contributed to trying to find this person," he said.
Army of God
Rudolph is believed to have written letters received by the media after the bombings. They were signed by a group called the Army of God. The letters claimed responsibility for the bombings and were declarations of war against the federal government.
Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, which tracks extremist groups, said Rudolph was "definitely a Christian Identity believer and an adherent of Nord Davis."
The Christian Identity movement is a militant racist and anti-Semitic organization that asserts that whites are God's chosen people.
Davis, an ideologue of the far right who died in 1997, built a walled compound in the Nantahala area called Northpoint and wrote propaganda decrying a New World Order that he claimed was controlled by Jews. He advocated killing gays and those who engaged in mixed-race relationships, and in a 1995 interview told the Greensboro, North Carolina, News & Record, "If you are an enemy of God, I am obliged to kill you."
Deborah Rudolph, the fugitive's ex-sister-in-law, told CNN that Rudolph was "pretty outspoken" and "more your revolutionary type person."
"The authorities have asked me why an abortion clinic, and why the Olympic Park" she said. "I think the Olympic Park more because he was against the One World Order and I think all the nations coming together during the Olympics ... and as far the abortion clinic, he didn't believe in abortion."
Rudolph attended Nantahala School during the ninth grade but dropped out and was schooled at home. After receiving a General Equivalency Diploma, he attended Western Carolina University for two semesters before enlisting in the Army in August 1987.
He served with the 101st Airborne Division in Kentucky but was discharged after a year and a half, reportedly for smoking marijuana. Rudolph returned to Nantahala, where he took up carpentry with his older brother, Daniel, and reportedly was an excellent craftsman.
Daniel Rudolph added a twist to the story in March 1998 when he went into his garage near Charleston, South Carolina, and turned on a video camera and a circular saw. "This is for the FBI and media," he said to the camera, then thrust his left arm into the saw, cutting off his hand. The hand was later surgically reattached.
From CNN Correspondent Mike Brooks and Producer Mike Phelan in Murphy, North Carolina, Senior Producer Henry Schuster in Atlanta, Georgia, and Justice Department Correspondent Kelli Arena in Washington. http://cnn.com
The FBI and the police have reason to be proud, and Americans can all feel a little safer and relieved that this man is behind bars.
With all our attention on foreign terrorism we can't forget that some of our own home-grown variety are every bit as dangerous.
I'm glad the FBI and the police did finally get their man. Great work!