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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Authorities Hold Press Conference on Rudolph's Capture

Aired May 31, 2003 - 12:31   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CHRIS SWECKER, FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Got everybody here? OK, if you're ready, we'll go ahead and get started. My name is Chris Swecker. Special agent in charge of the FBI in North Carolina. To my right here, is Mark Thigpen, the chief in Murphy. We have Keith Lovin, the Sheriff in Cherokee Co., Charles Moody, with the State Bureau of Investigations, supervisory agent.
We have C.J. Heinman with the ATF, he's the resident agent in charge, and to my left here we have Les Burl (ph) with the forest service, and we have Russ Arthur with Forest service. Who did I leave out here?

CHIEF MARK THIGPEN, MURPHY, N.C. POLICE: Nobody.

SWECKER: Rick Schwine (ph) with the FBI, and we have the ATF representatives here as well from Atlanta. What I'm going to do here is make just a very brief statement, and turn the floor over to the chief and the sheriff, and let them talk to you about the details of the arrest itself.

And I'll tell you up front that we're not going to be able to talk about the underlying charges for obvious reasons. This is an indictment, and it's something that would be improper to discuss in detail. But we will -- we can talk about the arrest, and we'll turn that over to the chief and sheriff.

As you know, in 1998 in January, Eric Robert Rudolph was charged with bombings in Georgia as well as Alabama. Multiple charges, multiple indictments, and all related to bombings in connection with the Centennial Park bombing, and abortion clinics, and nightclubs.

He disappeared into the mountains almost five years ago. And of course launched a massive manhunt at that time involving a host of agencies. Intensely looking for him for almost a two-year time period. About two years into it, it was scaled back significantly, but no one in this area, and no law enforcement agent ever gave up on finding him.

And the search continued, albeit on a different scale, with a different strategy, but we always thought that he was up here in the mountains in North Carolina somewhere. We had no credible sightings anywhere in the country other than here in the Murphy, Andrews Toptain (ph) area.

This morning at 4:30 in the morning, an alert Murphy police officer noticed something unusual going on behind the Valley Village shopping center here in Murphy. He investigated; he called for backup, and ultimately arrested Eric Robert Rudolph, at about 4:30 a.m. this morning.

As you know, he's charged in connection with the bombings of the Centennial Park, the Sandy Ridge Professional Center office building, and the double bombings of the Otherside Lounge in midtown Atlanta. The death of police officer -- of a police officer, in Alabama, resulted. Also the death of a person in Atlanta, and about 150 injuries resulted from these bombings.

And with that I'll turn the floor over to sheriff, or Chief Thigpen will go in chronological order as to the details of the arrest.

CHIEF MARK THIGPEN, MURPHY, N.C. POLICE: Thank you. This morning, at approximately 3:27 a.m. Officer Jeffrey Scott Postell was on routine patrol, and noticed a suspicious person behind a Save-A-Lot grocery store here in Murphy. Officer Postell investigated the person, detained him, called for assistance due to the suspicious nature of the activity. He thought he actually had someone who was possibly breaking into one of the businesses.

He detained him. The back-up units arrived, and after they arrived, which included the USTVA, and the sheriff's department's personnel along with other officers from our agency. They then transported him to the Cherokee County sheriff's department, where a collaborative effort was made to identify him.

Mr. Rudolph had given a false name and date of birth, which we could not get any positive results back through out NCICDCI (ph) systems. And at that time one of Sheriff Lovin's officers was familiar with Mr. Rudolph, thought he had made an ID of him, and I'll let the Sheriff address that part of the situation.

SHERIFF KEITH LOVIN, CHEROKEE CO., N.C.: After bringing Mr. Rudolph back to the Cherokee Co. Sheriff's office, Deputy Matthews, who was the first deputy to assist officer Postell, who had known Mr. Rudolph before all these other occurrences, told the officers that that's who it looked like. They went back and advised him that the information initially was inaccurate, and they asked him for his name, and he told the officers there that his name was Eric Robert Rudolph.

And at that point, our deputies and officers contacted chief Thigpen myself, and after coming in and talking with Mr. Rudolph, he was able to give his other verifiable information and we contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies that had been working on this case for dome period of time. They came in and through a fingerprint records we were able to verify that it was actually Eric Robert Rudolph.

SWECKER: Let me address one thing very quickly, there was no delay in identifying him. His prints were sent to the CJIS, criminal and justice information service center in West Virginia. And shortly thereafter, there was a confirmation on his prints. We wanted to make double sure that it was in fact him before we went ahead and confirmed it. But any information about a delay in processing the prints is inaccurate.

QUESTION: Sheriff, has he said anything at the interviews?

LOVIN: We've not actually consider what you would say a formal interview. We have inquired as to his general health, and we're taking care of feeding him. And he has engaged our (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in general conversation.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

LOVIN: He was relieved, at -- is what he indicated early on when...

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

LOVIN: Yes.

QUESTION: Where, did he say he had been staying over the last five years, has he been in this area the whole time?

LOVIN: He had been in the area the whole time. Yes.

QUESTION: What was his health like?

LOVIN: His health is generally good; he has lost quite a bit of weight. But other than that he's in relatively good health.

QUESTION: Had he been staying with anyone, or did anyone-has it just been him along the way?

LOVIN: He has not made any comments to (ph) that.

QUESTION: When (UNINTELLIGIBLE) met Rudolph there, did he reasonably know that he was Eric Robert Rudolph at that point?

LOVIN: Not initially, no.

QUESTION: Can you describe what he looked like, what he was wearing?

LOVIN: He has on a pair of blue work britches and a blue work shirt, jogging shoes. He had on a camouflage BDU jacket, outer jacket. And he had a backpack with him.

QUESTION: You know, we've seen lots of pictures with Eric Robert Rudolph, for these many years. How would you describe his appearance today compared to those pictures that we've been staring at on the wanted list?

LOVIN: They're very comparable. I mean we were able to look at pictures that Chief Thigpen and I had and went over and identified marks on him and they are quite similar.

QUESTION: Did he have long hair, beard, facial hair?

LOVIN: He has a stubble growth of beard currently and short hair. He's been trimming his own hair.

QUESTION: Where is he being held, and where will he be transported to?

LOVIN: He's currently in our facility, and I can't comment on where he's going to be transferred to at this time.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

LOVIN: Excuse me?

QUESTION: Did he resist much whenever (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

LOVIN: No he did not.

THIGPEN: There (ph) was no resistance whatsoever; Officer Postell went through a felony stop procedure. He provided no resistance to Officer Postell. He treated it as a felony situation. Mr. Rudolph had a flashlight in his hand and in the darkness appeared to possibly have been a weapon, so for his own safety, Officer Postell proceeded as if it were a felony in progress.

He ordered him to the ground at gunpoint. And he provided no resistance whatsoever and was taken into custody with no incident what so ever.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Had been living in a mobile home there where you found him?

THIGPEN: I cannot comment on that. And no he did not have a weapon. Strictly a large flashlight.

QUESTION: What else did he have with him?

THIGPEN: The backpack that Sheriff Lovin referred to and just some miscellaneous items in the backpack that were nothing significant.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) reward out for a million dollars for his capture. Is Postell going to get that reward?

THIGPEN: I have no idea. That's up to federal government.

QUESTION: Do you suspect that he may have had help; I know he didn't say he had help.

THIGPEN: I'd rather not speak on that, I have no idea.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

THIGPEN: He gave the name of Jerry Wilson.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the store or (UNINTELLIGIBLE) THIGPEN: I do not believe it was to rob the store. He didn't have the necessary items to enter the store. Probably, purely speculation that he was forging for food or other items in the garbage behind the store.

QUESTION: Chief, you've (ph) been looking for this guy for a long time. And it was suspected that he's either dead or hiding, or out of the area, what is your general reaction to simply finding Eric Robert Rudolph dumpster diving in Murphy, North Carolina?

THIGPEN: Well, quite some time ago I had made the comment to several other law enforcement officers that I felt like if he was in our area, which I was not sure one way or the other, that a local officer would be the most likely to stumble across him. Was quite surprised when I got the call this morning but I think that's a very appropriate way for him to be captured.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the whole time or do you know?

THIGPEN: Do not know.

QUESTION: Chief, do you have any idea whether he had a location in the woods or in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) where he was staying?

THIGPEN: That pertains to the open investigation and I will not comment on that.

QUESTION: Can you describe in detail exactly what happened and what lead up to him while he was in custody actually revealing his name. Can (ph) you get specific with that?

THIGPEN: That would be more up to Sheriff Lovin and the detention officers and the sheriff were more involved with that.

LOVIN: Well and we can't be more specific at this time about the details other than the fact that when the first name he gave we realized was fictitious and we asked him to give us who he actually was, that he did volunteer that.

QUESTION: How long was that?

LOVIN: From the time that we encountered him, probably about 20 minutes or so.

QUESTION: How would you describe his attitude and his mood when he finally told you who he was?

LOVIN: Well I -- and again I say somewhat relieved, and he's been cooperative with us to this point.

QUESTION: Has he asked to meet with anybody?

LOVIN: No.

QUESTION: Where will he be arraigned? SWECKER: The next step in the process in the federal system is called removal, a removal hearing. He'll have an appearance before a magistrate or judge in Ashfield, North Carolina, in the western district of North Carolina. And they will try to determine if he is in fact Eric Robert Rudolph.

That will be the issue. If they determine he is Eric Robert Rudolph, then he will be either removed to Atlanta, or Birmingham, depending on where he's going to be-coming to trial first.

QUESTION: When will that happen?

SWECKER: This will happen probably Monday.

QUESTION: Have you been in contact with his family in any (ph) way?

SWECKER: With...

QUESTION: Eric Rudolph's family?

SWECKER: ... No, we've been in contact with the victims first to notify them as quickly as we could. And we wanted to make sure that that happened, and then I don't believe anybody's been out to talk to his family yet.

We're still -- you know, this is an ongoing investigation. And there's still more work to do. And with the State Bureau of Investigation, with the Cherokee County Sheriff's Department, the Police Department, ATF, and the agencies you see in front of you, we're going to continue on. And there's a lot of work to be done.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) $1 million reward, and will you be rewarding that?

SWECKER: That I don't know. I'll have to -- that one will have to go much higher than my pay grade.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

LOVIN: Officer Postell worked third shift last night. I sent him home early to get some rest and he is on his way back.

QUESTION: Can we talk to him when he gets here?

LOVIN: If he so feels inclined.

QUESTION: He's going to come here?

LOVIN: Yes sir.

QUESTION: What time will that be?

LOVIN: I can't give you a specific time. He was on his way about 15 or 20 minutes ago, so I'm not sure.

QUESTION: How do you spell his name?

LOVIN: P O S T E L L.

QUESTION: I know that you said the hearing will probably be on Monday, in Ashfield, does that mean that he will be transferred on Monday, or...

SWECKER: Actually I'm not going top publicize when and where and how he's going to be transported at this time. But I believe that his appearance will be Monday in Ashfield.

QUESTION: Let's talk about (UNINTELLIGIBLE) by temperament and training (UNINTELLIGIBLE) five year marathon like this. I mean you got the phone call this morning. Were you surprised to hear that he was even still alive (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SWECKER: I wasn't surprised that he was still in the area. Because those that are closest to the investigation and there's been an extensive psychological profile done on him, know or suspect strongly that he's always been in this area. Dead or alive.

Now whether he was alive-I mean after five years everybody was speculating that he could have passed away in the mountains, died of exposure and that sort of thing. I think a lot of people had that in the back of their minds. So I think a lot of people were surprised, but we never gave up.

I mean the people you see in front of you just kept at it. We had a good plan that was in place with the local departments, the SPI, and the ATF. And that plan-it went exactly according to plan. We revolved it around a local officer making the first sighting.

I think everybody suspected that that would be the case, and that's exactly what happened. Let me remind you also that Cherokee County had a couple of deputies on the scene with Officer Postell.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there's no question that up here were a number of people who were (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Rudolph has survived (UNINTELLIGIBLE), he has a fair amount of local (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SWECKER: Well, five years is a long time. And that's something that we're going to be looking into. That's one of our primary areas of inquiry right now. But I don't want to speculate.

QUESTION: Could those people be (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

SWECKER: There is a statute, a federal statute, called Harboring a fugitive, it carries a-it's a felony. It's on the books, and it's been used in the past.

QUESTION: Is there any evidence you have to show the people locals have been aiding him?

SWECKER: I don't even want to go into that area right now. It just wouldn't be-it just wouldn't be right and proper to do that.

QUESTION: If someone aided him not knowing who he was, could they still potentially be charged?

SWECKER: There -- you'll have to ask an assistant US attorney on that question. That's a legal issue.

QUESTION: Chris, give me (UNINTELLIGIBLE) over the years, how much money and man-hours (UNINTELLIGIBLE) have been spent in search for this guy? Is (ph) it in the millions?

SWECKER: It's in the millions. I mean the front end of this fugitive hunt obviously was massive. And it -- we saturated the area with law enforcement agencies from all over from Georgia, North Carolina, and it was a very expensive effort.

At one -- at some point, the strategy changed. It was more of a low-key investigation, centering around that plan I mentioned to you, and focusing on state and local law enforcement in the area. And hoping that just setting those trip wires in place would ultimately get him. And that's what happened.

QUESTION: Chris, has it -- can you -- has this settled in yet, what has just happened today? I mean, after all this time, you've (ph) got all this speculation whether he's alive, dead, if he's gone out of the area. Here it is today after well seven years, five years since we identified him, and has it settled in what happened?

SWECKER: Probably not. I mean, I know with the officers you see, and the detectives you see up here, every one of them invested a substantial amount of their life, and their time up here looking, and working the plan. And I think it will take a couple of days for it to settle in. You may talk to them about their reactions.

But you know, five years is a long time. And a lot of people thought that you know we have given up. And in fact we, everybody here had spent a lot of times behind the scene still looking for him. So.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) already answered this, but following Ashfield, is it been determined whether he goes to Alabama or Georgia?

SWECKER: That's going to be a decision made by the Department of Justice, and I will defer that question to the DOJ.

QUESTION: Where does the investigation go from here Chris?

SWECKER: Well, we're going to follow all the logical leads about where he's been. I mean our focus is going to be gathering any other any other evidences out there. We're going to focus on what he's been doing for the last five years, and then the case-the underline cases I just can't comment on.

Those cases have been indicted, and if there's an opportunity to shore up that evidence, that will certainly be done.

QUESTION: You're surrounded right now by some very well trained individuals. Can you make a comment on your thoughts at least on Rudolph's survival skills? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for five years, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) well-trained individuals.

SWECKER: Well you know, I'm probably not the most qualified person to talk about that. Nobody ever thought he was the greatest of outdoorsmen. He was a good outdoorsman, but the psychological profile on him was that he-there are certainly people in this area that are much more accomplished in that area.

And I think we have people from the Forest Service, and Fish and Wildlife that are-they can probably comment on that a little bit.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) what it takes to survive for five years out there?

SWECKER: We had it figured all the way down to the number of calories he would need each day, and trying to figure out how much food he would need, and that sort of thing.

QUESTION: If this was such a-and we've all heard about how treacherous these mountains are up here, and you found him today wearing jogging shoes. It doesn't fit a survivalist gear, does it?

SWECKER: No, but let me defer that question to the Sheriff and the Chief. These folks are up here all the time, I think they could probably better answer that question.

THIGPEN: Re-ask your question again, please?

QUESTION: Well I-you would talk all along how treacherous these mountains are up here, and what you could run across in these mountains. And when you arrested him, he was wearing jogging shoes, which doesn't fit a scenario that I would think of being able to handle these mountains.

THIGPEN: It is summertime, and jogging shoes would be relatively comfortable this time of year in the mountains.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Quiet!

JEFFREY SCOTT POSTELL, MURPHY, N.C. POLICE: How are you doing? How are you?

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) behind the Save-A-Lot (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Quiet!

QUESTION: Did you know that it was Eric Robert Rudolph?

POSTELL: No, sir, I didn't. I was under the impression I had a potential breaking and entering, or a prowler in that area.

QUESTION: Walk us through step-by-step what happened this morning. POSTELL: OK. I was on a patrol in the east part of town doing business checks at one of the shopping centers. Came around the corner, turned my headlights off, that's how you usually proceed around a building, observed a male subject squatting down in the middle of the road.

As I approached he observed me he took off running and got in behind some milk crates which were stacked up there. Not knowing what-who it was or what he had, I took safety into concern, and advised him to come out. He complied to everything I asked him to do.

QUESTION: When did you realize it was him (ph)?

POSTELL: At the Sheriff's office after taking him in.

QUESTION: Officer Postell, how do you feel now in retrospect knowing -- I don't want to say was routine, but you go through this a lot, now in retrospect, you've captured one of the most wanted fugitives in this country?

POSTELL: It's just in a day's work. Don't really deserve any credit. Just doing what I was hired to do.

QUESTION: How long have you been on the job (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

POSTELL: I've been on the job for nearly a year, sir.

QUESTION: So let me ask you this, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

POSTELL: Can't really, I can't really comment on that.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) can you walk me through that part?

POSTELL: Pretty much, he had no ID on him, and he gave -- he supplied me a name. And that's about all I can I can comment.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

POSTELL: He was very cooperative. Not a bit disrespectful. Very respectful.

QUESTION: Officer, there's a big reward out in this case for the person who captures Eric Robert Rudolph. Do you think you deserve that reward?

POSTELL: Not going to comment. Like I said, I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

POSTELL: I did.

QUESTION: How old are you?

POSTELL: I'm 21. QUESTION: Did it ever dawn in your mind before you took (ph) him to jail this might be Eric Robert Rudolph? Did you ever think that you may run into him?

POSTELL: Never had that impression to ever run across him, however there was a deputy sheriff there that said that he struck a very similar resemblance to Mr. Rudolph.

QUESTION: Did you grow up around here?

POSTELL: I did.

QUESTION: In Murphy?

POSTELL: In Andrews.

QUESTION: Officer, I know, I know you're just doing your job. But you've got to feel something, some (UNINTELLIGIBLE) inside you about capturing this man (ph).

POSTELL: I think I put a lot of people's feelings at ease. A lot of stress that was involved in this situation. It's a closure to it I believe. And that's, like I said, that's about it. I was just glad I was out there doing my job and was glad I was in the right place in the right place at the right time.

QUESTION: What do you think about all this media attention?

POSTELL: It's different.

QUESTION: You're probably not going to (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

(LAUGHTER)

POSTELL: It's real different, not used to it.

QUESTION: What (UNINTELLIGIBLE) reaction right at that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) moment, when they said this is the guy?

POSTELL: Nervous. Relieved. Basically that.

QUESTION: Did you and your colleagues and the Sheriff's go yes! Was there a moment, describe the scene in the squad room...

POSTELL: Rather would not comment on that.

QUESTION: Did he say (ph) anything (ph)? Was he in the dumpster, and you got him out?

POSTELL: No sir.

QUESTION: He came out, or...

POSTELL: Like I said, he was very cooperative, and came out when I asked him to.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

POSTELL: No, sir. He hid behind some milk crates were stacked up there.

QUESTION: Did you draw a weapon on him?

POSTELL: I did.

QUESTION: Did he say anything to you at all?

POSTELL: No, sir.

QUESTION: Not a ...

POSTELL: Can't comment nothing like that.

QUESTION: So he was never actually in the dumpster. He was floating (ph) around in that area behind the store.

POSTELL: At the time I observed him, yes.

QUESTION: He was in the middle of the road behind the store heading toward the dumpster or (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

POSTELL: I'm not sure where he was headed.

QUESTION: Did he make a move to run?

POSTELL: He did.

QUESTION: How often did you and your colleagues over the past year, or however long you've been on the force, talk about him, and the possibility of maybe running into him someday?

POSTELL: Name's always been circulated. We've always been on the lookout for him. So like I said, the names always circulate. So we tried to keep our eyes open for him.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) what he's been doing all this time?

POSTELL: Pardon?

QUESTION: Has he ever, did he say what he's been doing all this time?

POSTELL: I can't comment on that, sir.

QUESTION: Officer, did you have to draw your weapon (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

POSTELL: Yes, that's all, that's all the questions I want to answer.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) people around here and did you hear (ph) to be one of them, can you initially?

POSTELL: No, sir.

QUESTION: Who did you think he was initially?

POSTELL: I did not have a clue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

LOVIN: Before we plunge, we'd like to take just a second and again, I want to echo what's been said up here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

LOVIN: I'd like to echo what's been said up here. This is a good example of how of how different agencies in law enforcement work together. Cherokee county Sheriff's office, Murphy police department, we got the FBI, the SBI, ATF, State bureau of investigation. We have the Graham (ph) (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Jackson County Sheriff's officer are assisting, the Cherokee travel (ph) police are assisting us, and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) police have assisted us, and North Carolina Highway Patrol has assisted us.

To me this is just a prime example of how well we get things done when we all work together. And to echo what Jeff has said, there's not been a time that when officers have gotten together and in this area, that we've not talked about Mr. Rudolph. And if he was still alive, and where he's at. And have been following up any leads that have came in.

And we're just very grateful for the assistance, and we just hope to-that this at least puts a closure to a chapter of something that's been going on in Cherokee county for a period of time.

QUESTION: Sir, can I ask a question? Was he (UNINTELLIGIBLE) grocery store? Or was he (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

LOVIN: He was behind the shopping center.

QUESTION: Which was it? Was he going toward it or away from it?

LOVIN: He was there, I don't...

POSTELL: He was there in the general area (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

THIGPEN: I'll answer for Officer Postell. He was in the area of a service entrance in a delivery dock behind a chain grocery store here within the city limits.

QUESTION: Can you spell the name of the grocery store?

THIGPEN: Save, S A V E A Lot, L O T Save-A-Lot.

QUESTION: Was he digging around (ph) for food, was he looking for food? What was he looking for? THIGPEN: Officer Postell stated that he was in the roadway when he first spotted him, and then ducked behind the stack of delivery area there. And that's where he brought him out from.

And I would like to also reiterate what the sheriff said; we have an excellent working relationship in this area. We all have small departments, we work together very well. And from the very beginning this was a cooperative effort. Even going back to the initial investigation, and it ended as a cooperative effort.

SWECKER: Thank you folks.

QUESTION: Do you have a mug shot? Are they going to...

SWECKER: You'll have to talk to the sheriff. We cannot release the mug shot (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

LOVIN: OK, as far as the a picture, we have a list here, my administrative assistant is going to stay here, and get all the information, and try to get that disseminated, so if you'll just be patient with her, Stacey (ph) Posey (ph) will be right here, and will take care of that, OK?

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