MMI graduate helps nab Rudolph

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 19, 2005

MARION-Military training demands quick thinking, good instincts, and an ability to make rapid-fire decisions in a tight spot. So it’s hardly a shock that the actions of a graduate from Marion Military Institute have made him a key witness in the case against Eric Rudolph, the serial bomber who pled guilty this week to four bombings in Alabama and Georgia.

“I am not surprised at all,” said Sgt Maj. Calvin Drake, assistant commandant at MMI. “Jermaine was always very thorough, focused, and had a keen sense of attention to detail.”

Drake refers to Mobile native Jermaine Hughes, 29, who graduated from MMI in 1997 and subsequently transferred to the University of Alabama-Birmingham. On the morning of January 29, 1998, Hughes was doing laundry in the basement of his UAB dormitory when he heard an explosion.

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Like nearly everyone else in the area, Hughes quickly left the building and went to see what had caused the blast. Unlike everyone else, Hughes noticed the one man in the crowd walking quietly away from the detonation rather than going towards it. That man would later prove to be Eric Rudolph.

Hughes quickly got in his vehicle and followed him. After a few blocks Hughes believed he had lost Rudolph’s trail, and he pulled into the parking lot of a McDonald’s to call the police. While on the phone with an officer, Hughes spotted Rudolph again, standing across the street. Hughes immediately gave the police a full description of the suspect, with the help of Opelika attorney Jeff Tickal, who had stopped at McDonald’s for coffee.

Hughes and Tickal then each followed Rudolph in their vehicles, and spotted him getting into a gray Nissan pickup. Both recorded Rudolph’s license plate number and turned the information over to police.

Thanks to Hughes’s description and the tag number, authorities could identify Rudolph as the bomber and instigate what became the five-year manhunt for his arrest.

“If it wasn’t for Jermaine, we’d have nothing,” Birmingham police Detective Phillip Russell was quoted as saying Wednesday. “He was just a kid that heard a bomb, saw this guy walking away with, in his words, a purpose and knew it wasn’t right. We would have been in the same boat as [at the Atlanta Olympics] as far as investigating a bomb and not ever knowing who did it.”

“In this tragedy I consider them to be real heroes,” assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Whisonant was quoted as saying. “What they did in this case was extraordinary. Probably not many people would have done what Jermaine Hughes did. And had he not taken an active role here, Rudolph would have gone on to kill a lot of people.”

After Hughes’s stellar academic record at MMI, his teachers have said his heroism is hardly unexpected.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Major Mary Brooks, Hughes’s English professor during his time at MMI.

“Students here think on their feet and take initiative, which is reinforced through academics and military training.”

Brooks added that Hughes stood out during his MMI career for his determination to succeed academically. He was named Company Commander, was inducted into the prestigious Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society for his academic achievements, and received several physical fitness awards as well.

Since receiving his Associate of Science degree at MMI in 1997, Hughes has been commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant through the Army Early Commissioning Program, transferred to and graduated from UAB, and enrolled in the nation’s premier law school at Harvard University.

Drake said that Hughes is a great example of the kind of intelligent, responsible citizens that MMI routinely produces.

“A lot of our cadets want to be heroes,” he said. “Jermaine Hughes has certainly achieved that status.”

MMI Pubic Affairs official Georgianne Patterson stated that, on the advice of his attorney, Hughes is not making any public comments at this time.