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JIM LEHRER: Now domestic terrorism. The Oklahoma City bombing trial underway in Denver has refocused attention on homegrown acts of terrorism. One city that has had more than its share of bomb attacks recently is Atlanta. Betty Ann Bowser reports.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: On Country Western Night it’s usually standing-room-only at the Otherside Bar in Atlanta. (music in background) But recently business has dropped by more than 50 percent. Members of the gay and lesbian community who frequent the club say quietly they are afraid to come here now. That’s because the Otherside was the latest victim in a series of bombings that started last summer when there was an explosion in Centennial Park during the Olympics. In fact, Atlanta has been the target of more bombings than any other city in the country since the Federal Building in Oklahoma City was blown up two years ago. The Otherside became a target shortly before 10 o’clock on February 21st. A pipe bomb exploded on a patio inside the bar, injuring five patrons. The owner of the Otherside is Beverly McMahon.
BEVERLY McMAHON, Bar Owner: I was shocked. It’s changed my entire life. It’s made me be real, real cautious when I wake up. I seem to be looking behind my shoulder more and looking at people more, and I’m real cautious about everything I do.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Anthony Appleberry says he’s more cautious too. He was one of the first police officers to arrive on the scene that night. He and his partner secured the crime scene and then–
ANTHONY APPLEBERRY, Police Officer: We walked around to the front of the club after we had sealed off that area, secured the area, and as we were walking down the driveway, I looked into the bushes, and that’s when I found the bomb, the second bomb.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Police brought in their electronic robot to handle the unexpected second bomb. And while the robot was moving the device to a safe place, it too exploded.
ANTHONY APPLEBERRY: Just the notion that you’ve got two devices there. The first one, I mean, it’s our job to actually respond to that, and just in doing your job you’re being put in harm’s way again.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: One month earlier police and rescue workers were put in harm’s way when a second bomb went off after they responded to an explosion at an abortion clinic in suburban Atlanta. Six people were injured. The number of bombing incidents in the United States increased from 847 in 1985 to 2577 10 years later, the same year as the Oklahoma City bombing. It is not just the number of incidents, though, that concerns officials. It is the massive amount of destruction one bomb can do, as witnessed by the number of deaths in Oklahoma City. The Atlanta bombings point to another disturbing trend, the planting of a second bomb clearly aimed at those who respond. For 30 years prior to these blasts there had not been a single bombing incident in the United States involving a secondary device. That change worries Atlanta’s mayor, Bill Campbell.
MAYOR BILL CAMPBELL, Atlanta: Our police and emergency medical personnel love to rush to the scene and get right to the injured and help them and secure the scene, but it puts an entirely new dimension to their response now because understand that every law enforcement person, every emergency medical technician must now wonder, “Is my life also at risk as I respond to the original bomb?”. And that is a very chilling new dynamic that’s not been a part of our response in the past.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Law enforcement’s response has been to rapidly bring police, fire and emergency medical workers together from all over the state for retraining. More than 500 attended a conference recently where they were told that they must practice a new way to save lives. Gary McConnell headed security for the Governor’s Office during the Olympics last summer. Now he’s director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency or GEMA.
GARY McCONNELL, Director, Emergency Management: The next time we see these folks, my friends and our public safety folks across our state, if they do not change the way they’re doing business, it will be, one, either at the hospital or, God forbid, at the funeral home. That’s how serious we’re taking this effort across the state of Georgia.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Those at the meeting were told the new rule in emergency rescue is to move the victims first before injuries are treated. They were cautioned that they might have to compromise medical care in order to avoid becoming victims, themselves. Atlanta’s fire chief, Winston Minor, who also heads up the city’s emergency medical service, says now his people may have to make medical compromises.
CHIEF WINSTON MINOR, Fire Department: Under normal circumstances our approach to delivering the EMS service may not be as complete or comprehensive as we’d like, but certainly looking at life-threatening situations, we get in, we get out as quickly as we possibly can.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But police and rescue workers aren’t the only people being trained to deal with bombs. As head of the police department’s SWAT Team, Lt. Stan Savage spends much of his time talking to groups of citizens who are worried about what to do in the event of a bomb threat.
PERSON IN AUDIENCE: One case scenario: In the last couple of bombings, no warnings. How do we protect–you know, how do we heighten our awareness of protecting ourselves against that situation?
STAN SAVAGE, Police SWAT Team: Well, you know, they used to tell me when I was playing basketball, you know, sometimes the best defense is a good offense.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Savage explains that the bomb squad cannot respond to every single bomb threat, so when a call comes in, people should have a plan to search for a potential bomb to make sure the bomb threat is not just another hoax before Savage’s team is called in. Some people didn’t want to hear that.
WOMAN IN AUDIENCE: It showed the bomb squad after they found it. This is a hospital. I’d rather have you all here while we’re searching because we have a lot of patients bedridden to evacuate, and it really takes time.
STAN SAVAGE: We want to come out here to either perform a search, to be as helpful as we can, and we’ll bend over backwards to do that, but you know a lot of times we don’t like to grant undue alarm either, and a lot of times it is just a threat.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Savage and the police have seen a huge increase in the number of bomb threats. In the first three months of this year there have been 165. During the same period last year there were only 29. Because the “Atlanta Constitution” has been a target of some of those bomb threats there is now a uniformed armed police officer outside around the clock. And inside, editorial page editor Cynthia Tucker finds the security extremely tight.
CYNTHIA TUCKER, Atlanta Constitution: All my mail is now x-rayed. All my mail now comes with a stamp on it that shows that our security staff has x-rayed it before it even comes to me. It used–while employees have long been asked to wear their ID badges when they come in and out, that is now strictly required. They ask you for your ID badge even though they know who you are.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: In the 17 years Tucker has been with the paper she has been the target of a number of death threats.
CYNTHIA TUCKER: We’ve always bene targets. I have over the years gotten the occasional death threat, and I’ve never taken them seriously but frankly until now. I always thought those were very angry people who were probably harmless. But now I’m having to look at that a bit differently, and I can tell you now if I ever get a letter that has a death threat, I turn it over immediately to our security force.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Bar owner McMahon and her partner of 14 years, Dana Ford, say they refuse to live in a state of fear, but they think about the potential for another bombing all the time, and they are particularly concerned about the future their children will face.
BEVERLY McMAHON: I feel like, you know, what are they going–what are they heading for now? What’s their life going to be like if it’s this bad now?
DANA FORD: What’s going to happen as the kids get older and are things going to escalate and how? You know, when I go to sporting events, when I go to any public function, when I go to theater, I’m really looking. I really will. I think that’s going to be for the rest of my life.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Cynthia Tucker thinks that kind of caution may have to become a way of life.
CYNTHIA TUCKER: I think we’re now coming to grips with the notion that we have our own homegrown fanatics and lunatics who are going to make life very uncomfortable and, indeed, dangerous. Abortion clinics may be easy targets. Gay bars might be obvious targets. But I think before this is over, unhappily, there might be more targets. And so what I think most Atlantans are trying to do is to go about their day-to-day business and not let the lunatics win.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Chuck and Lisa Taylor are attempting to do just that, but day-to-day life is more complicated than it was before the bombing started. They wonder who might be a target next and point to countless reasons they might be at risk. Taylor, who’s a four-generation native, belongs to a Jewish temple that has been the target of bombs in the past. His grandmother founded the first Georgia chapter of Planned Parenthood. And he owns two small shopping centers in the same neighborhood where the Otherside Bar is located.
CHUCK TAYLOR, Businessman: You have a concern any time you have business in areas that are populated by, you know, in this case groups that are likely to be targets. We have gay tenants in some of our–in some of our properties. We have certainly African-American and other minority tenants in others of our properties. And who knows what the next target group is going to be? They’ve gotten the pro-choice community, and the family planning community. They’ve hit the gay community and who knows who’s next?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The FBI continues to investigate all three bombing incidents but so far has not solved any of the cases. Inspector Jack Dolton says the agency’s effort is enormous.
JACK DOLTON, Atlanta FBI: We still have a huge number of people dedicated to this investigation, a large number of people, over 70 agents, 30 plus support people. We are dedicated to resolving this investigation.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Atlanta is a city known for tolerance and for its ability to solve problems. Now city officials are bracing themselves for another potential problem. Thousands of African-American college students will be arriving shortly to celebrate their annual spring break. The event also falls on April 19th, the second anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.