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But Olympic Park was also the place that security experts had privately worried was most vulnerable to terrorist attack. And in the early hours of Saturday morning, two events swiftly focused those concerns. About 18 minutes before the explosion, a call came in to 911. According to FBI agent David ("Woody") Johnson, "a white male with an indistinguishable" American accent warned that a bomb would go off at the park within 30 minutes. At about the same time, Tom Davis, of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, who had been alerted to a suspicious bag by a stage security guard, viewed an unattended olive-green knapsack leaning up against the 40-ft. nbc sound tower 150 ft. from the stage. The officer called the bomb ordnance squad, which included FBI and atf agents and military personnel. Joined by other officers, the police began to warn the crowd away from the site. But the young, jolly revelers, many waving cups of beer, didn't take directions very well. Two or three minutes later, the evacuation was still in progress when suddenly there was a flash of light and a boom. The smell of gunpowder filled the air.
At first, according to eyewitnesses, few understood what had happened. There were even audible whoops from the pumped-up crowd, who thought the sound-and-light show was just part of the concert's special effects. "It happened in an instant," says Greg Addison, who was standing across the street. "People were just looking at each other, like, 'Was that a bomb?'" Jennifer Ellis, 24, an Olympics volunteer, had not been able to sleep Friday night, and had joined the throngs in the park. "I was just walking around," she says, "and the world exploded." Swimmer Janet Evans, who was inside the glass-fronted Swatch pavilion at her own retirement party, was in the middle of an interview for German television when she heard the bomb. After keeping up a chipper front during her days of disappointing performances at her final Olympics, this was too much. Evans cursed, and fled. "I want to go home," she said later. "It scares me. It scares me to death."
As the word passed through the crowd, "It's a bomb, it's a bomb," people started to run. Muhammad says he saw "five or six police officers go down. A lot of people had blood on them." Davis, one of the agents for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation who had early on found the bomb sack and started clearing people away, was knocked into the air by the explosion. When he later rejoined his family nearby, he noticed that a piece of galvanized metal had hit him in the rear end, where it was stopped by the police credentials in his back pocket. He was actually closer to the blast than the woman who was killed.
Ellis, about 15 feet from the stage, knelt down next to a man who kept repeating "What happened? What happened?" She says: "He had a gash in his neck and I kept putting pressure on his neck. I was afraid he was going to bleed to death." David Loya was on his way back from watching the swimming at the Georgia Tech aquatics center when he heard the explosion. An emergency-medicine doctor, he immediately hopped a ride in a police car to the site, where he helped tend to some of the 20 injured people on the ground, most of whom had penetrating wounds to the neck, abdomen or chest, and another 20 or so of the injured who could still walk.