Flight of the hummingbirds

Hummingbirds travel great distances twice a year between the United States and Canada south to Mexico and other Central and South American locales.
One of their rest stops is a botanical garden in North Carolina.

North Carolina botanical garden a rest stop for the birds on their annual trips north and south

NOTE: An edited version of this story appeared in the Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, edition of The Gaston Gazette newspaper in Gastonia, NC.

Similar to a fisherman on the banks of the Catawba River, Keith Camburn patiently held his string taut Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, waiting to spring the trap and reel in the mighty beast weighing all of a dime.

Camburn, a Gastonia, NC, resident, and Michael Leonowicz, who makes his home in Charlotte, were two of those responsible for capturing hummingbirds at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden near Belmont, NC. They were each seated in chairs watching a feeder inside a cage, which was constantly circled by a gang of hummingbirds.

The task wasn’t as easy as it seemed. A hummingbird can reach a speed of up to 49 mph when it dives and beats its wings, on average, 53 times per second. So, it’s not like you’re catching a turtle.

“It’s like fishing,” said Leonowicz, who has been helping to band birds for the past 15 years. “The birds have gotten smarter.”

Mike Leonowicz and Keith Camburn work to secure another hummingbird as hummingbird researcher Susan Campbell collected, measured, weighed and banded hummingbirds Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden on South New Hope Road.
[Mike Hensdill/The Gaston Gazette]

As of mid-morning Saturday, they’d captured five hummingbirds that had been delivered to researcher Susan Campbell, who identified and, with the skilled hands of a surgeon, had weighed, measured and applied bands to mark each of the birds.

“The habitat at the garden is excellent. There are plenty of things planted at the garden that are good hummingbird plants,” said Campbell, an Apex, NC, resident whose been holding the program at Stowe Botanical for the past 15 years.

Hummingbird researcher Susan Campbell collected, measured, weighed and banded hummingbirds Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden.
[Mike Hensdill/The Gaston Gazette]

The hummingbird banding program, which was held Saturday and Sunday, is one of the most popular at the garden, usually attracting anywhere from 800 to 900 people, said Jim Hoffman, the interim executive director at Stowe Botanical.

Lake Wylie, SC, residents Eric and Allison Schaff are members of the garden and attended Saturday’s program with their sons, Noah, 14, and Benjamin, 9. Both brothers got to hold newly-banded hummingbirds in their hands before the birds flew off.

“I felt a very small vibrating because it was breathing,” Benjamin said. “I could see its eyes blinking. It was very neat.”

Hummingbird researcher Susan Campbell places a banded hummingbird in the hand of 4-year-old Aristotle Christopher on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden on South New Hope Road.
[Mike Hensdill/The Gaston Gazette]

Did you know?

The hummingbirds you see in your own garden may very well be repeat guests?

“It could very well be,” said Raleigh resident Steve Schultz, who was assisting Campbell during Saturday’s program. “They do have the ability to return to the same specific spot.”

Hummingbirds spend their winters in Mexico and South America, migrating to the United States each spring, where they’ll mate, build their nests and raise their young. In the fall, they return south.

Saturday at the garden, there was the rare experience of one of the birds they captured having already been banded. Schultz said the female bird, which was at least 3 years old, had likely been captured years ago at Stowe Botanical.

“That bird has flown to Central America and back, Central America and back. That bird’s got more frequent flyer miles than I do,” Schultz said. “This bird traveled thousands of miles. It’s amazing something that small can navigate that distance.”

A hummingbird flies about in front of the trap Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden on South New Hope Road.
[Mike Hensdill/The Gaston Gazette]

When will you commonly see hummingbirds at your feeder?

The hummingbirds usually arrive in early April and most have departed by the end of September.

Daily, you’ll usually see them at the feeder when they get hungry, which is typically in the morning and evening. During the day, they’re often snacking on insects, such as the gnats that linger near crepe myrtles, Schultz said.

“One of the myths is that they just drink nectar. In fact, they’re fly catchers. They mostly eat insects, which makes sense because they need protein, especially when they’re nesting,” he said. “And during the day, there’s tons of insects out.”

Hummingbird researcher Susan Campbell collected, measured, weighed and banded hummingbirds Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden.
[Mike Hensdill/The Gaston Gazette]

Which hummingbird are you seeing?

Most likely, in this part of North Carolina, you are seeing a female ruby-throated hummingbird. The male will have the red marking on its throat. They don’t stick around as long as the female, who is tasked with maintaining a nest and raising the young.

“I’ve been helping here five years and I’ve never caught a male,” Camburn said. “They just do their stuff and take off.”

A hummingbird flies about Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden.
[Mike Hensdill/The Gaston Gazette]

Nix the red?

Another helpful hint: Forego buying the red-dyed hummingbird mix at the store. Instead, make your own mixture with four parts of water to one part sugar. It’s much healthier for the birds and cheaper for the birder, Schultz said.

Keith Camburn keeps his eye on the trap Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. [Mike Hensdill/The Gaston Gazette]

How many different types of hummingbirds are there?

Camburn said he’s been “chasing birds” for the past 40 years.

“I’m trying to see all the hummingbirds in the world,” he said of a list that has expanded to include 345 different species. “It’s never going to happen but I got to try.”

He’s seen all 11 of the species recorded in North Carolina. Only 17 of the species have been spotted in the United States.

“When I moved here 30 years ago, there were two hummers in the state,” Camburn said. “Now, I’ve seen 11 species, which is just nuts. I’m guessing Susan banded just about all of them.”

A horticulture volunteer at the garden, which means doing a lot of weeding, trimming and planting, Camburn also has taken on filling and cleaning the five hummingbird feeders at the garden.

A hummingbird flies Saturday, August 1, 2020, at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden.
[Mike Hensdill/The Gaston Gazette]

Surreal silence at track for one NASCAR crew member

“It was strange, surreal.”
Those were the words of Scott Denton, a member of the No. 88 race team, said when asked about NASCAR’s return to racing on Sunday, May 17 in Darlington, S.C.

Racing resumes without fans, life goes on for one member of Hendrick’s No. 88 race team

Editor’s Note: A version of this story appeared in the Saturday, May 23, 2020, edition of The Gaston Gazette newspaper in Gastonia, N.C.

After two months of being pitted under the yellow flag version of coronavirus, NASCAR’s race teams have returned to green flag racing, one of the first professional sports leagues to resume operation.

Scott Denton, 54, has been involved in auto racing for the past 17 years. He’s spent the last 10 working for Hendrick Motorsports as a member of race teams featuring drivers Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Scott Denton

He’s currently a member of Hendrick’s No. 88 team that’s led by driver Alex Bowman and crew chief Greg Ives. Denton is the backup driver for the No. 88 race team hauler, but also is a part of the pit crew on race day.

Alex Bowman (88) makes a pit stop during the NASCAR Cup Series auto race Sunday, May 17, 2020, in Darlington, S.C.
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

As a member of the support crew, he’s responsible for throwing the rear air hose and catching the gas can during adrenaline-pumping pit stops that last less than 15 seconds.

Prior to NASCAR stopping racing in mid-March, the 88 team had been on a roll as they were coming off a win March 1 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The win was the second career victory for the 27-year-old Bowman, who is in his third full season driving for HMS.

Alex Bowman, driver of the #88 Cincinnati Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 01, 2020 in Fontana, California.
(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

And once racing resumed, the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet made another strong showing, finishing second in the May 17 race at Darlington (S.C.) Speedway.

“Sunday was awesome, but it was also different,” Helton said Wednesday, May 20. “It was strange, surreal, but it went well because everybody there did what NASCAR asked us to do.”

All of the race team members had to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They had their temperature checked before entering the race track and had to wear a mask and practice social distancing once inside.

“We had to follow all the protocols that NASCAR wanted and HMS wanted,” Helton said. “Pretty much all day you had a mask on and gloves and you were six feet apart to keep your distance. It was different because you usually mingle and say ’Hi’ to guys, but all you could do basically was just wave at them instead of high-fiving and stuff like that.”

The big difference was the quiet and emptiness of the track’s grandstands.

“You miss the fans because of the screaming and yelling,” Helton said. “When I’m doing my duty, you don’t really think about it, but yeah, we miss the fans.”

A general view of the pace car leading the field prior to the NASCAR Cup Series The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway on May 17, 2020 in Darlington, South Carolina.
(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

On a typical race week, Denton works Monday through Thursday at the Hendrick Motorsports shop in Concord. He spends his time “turning the tool box around” and “turning the trailer around”, which basically means he’s going through a six-page checklist and making sure the equipment used on race day is serviced, in place and ready for use.

He’s normally off work on Fridays and Saturdays and then flies out to the race track with members of the race team on Sunday. After assisting the pit crew during the race, he drives the hauler back to its shop in Concord.

The No. 88 race team hauler.

While they weren’t in the shop from mid-March through early May with social distancing restrictions, Denton’s days were filled with plenty of video conference meetings through the Microsoft Teams software. Sometimes, there’d be three meetings per day.

He also devoted a large amount of time to mountain biking and doing workout videos at home. With the physical demands of working as part of the pit crew, it was important for the 6-foot-1-inch, 194-pound Denton to stay in shape. The work paid off as he dropped 10 pounds while social distancing.

A 1983 graduate of Ashbrook High School, Denton makes his home in Belmont with his wife, Christyn, and their 6-year-old son, Jack. One benefit of the downtime has been the chance to be at home, Denton said.

“That’s a blessing in itself to be able to be home with the family,” he said. “It’s been a lot of family time.”

Scott Denton with his wife, Christyn, and their 6-year-old son, Jack.

While currently serving as a backup hauler driver, when he started at Hendrick Motorsports, Denton was the primary driver for Gordon’s colorful DuPont transporter and Junior’s Mountain Dew-splashed tractor-trailer. He made the switch to a backup driver after he got married in order to spend more time at home.

“When I’m on the road, I’ll do a lot of Facetiming, especially on the West Coast trips,” Denton said of races at Sonoma, Calif., Las Vegas and Phoenix.

The 2,800-mile drive to Sonoma from Concord runs more than 40 hours each way, he said, while Phoenix takes 34 hours.

The drivers follow Department of Transportation regulations that limit them to 11 hours of driving per shift. On the long trips, he and the other driver will often rotate, switching out every 10 hours.

The No. 88 race hauler is shown at the track.

“When you’re driving the truck, it’s the open road, it’s like freedom,” said Denton, who says Interstate 10 through southern Arizona is his favorite stretch of road. “It’s unbelievable. There are beautiful mountains and scenery you just don’t expect to see. If you didn’t leave Gastonia or Belmont, you wouldn’t think something like that exists.”

Racing has long been in Denton’s blood. He started out racing super late-model cars at Cherokee Raceway in Gaffney, S.C., with his grandfather, Toy Bolton.

“I love racing in general,” Denton said. “I grew up in racing and I was always a race fan growing up. I used to watch those transporters go by and I used to tell my granddad, ’Hey man, I’m going to drive one of those one of these days.’ He said, ’Oh, it’s a lot of work.’”

Denton’s longtime friend, Mark “Hollywood” Armstrong, who was working in auto racing and now works for JR Motorsports, suggested Denton, who was working part-time at FedEx and attending Gaston College, get his commercial driver’s license and he would help him land with a race team.

After obtaining his CDL, Denton started out driving a motorhome for race team owner Chip Ganassi and then worked his way up through the ranks, culminating with the offer from Hendrick Motorsports in 2010.

This weekend’s trip to Charlotte Motor Speedway is their shortest trip of the year, as it’s almost literally across the street from their race shop. The Concord track and race week is a special time for Denton.

“I can bring my family. My son and wife can come to the garage and see what I actually do for a living,” he said. “Charlotte’s always been special because of that.”

However, Charlotte will also be without fans as NASCAR’s social distancing restrictions remain in place. Denton will miss having his family there beside him.

He says the fellowship among the racing community is what he likes best about his job.

Scott Denton

“I enjoy racing. I enjoy going to victory lane. It’s pretty awesome.”

A gift of home for former homeless mother of one

Thirty-four-year-old Thomasina Williams, who lived out of her car in the past, can count on one hand the number of places that were her own.
Through the generosity of one group and thanks to a coronavirus stimulus check, she now has a furnished home for she and her 5-year-old daughter.

Editor’s Note: A version of this story first appeared in the May 17, 2020, version of The Gaston Gazette newspaper in Gastonia, N.C.

Thomasina Williams has been homeless before and knows what it’s like to live out of your car and have all your earthly possessions in your backseat.

After the death of her mother when Williams was just 16 years old, she’d spent the past 18 years bouncing from one family member’s home to another, from Virginia to North Carolina, searching for a permanent landing spot.

“It was tough,” she said. “I can count on how many places I had (to call home) on my hand. It was three. Three places that were my own.”

Williams had moved in with her brother and other family members in their Gastonia, N.C., home in September 20109, but was facing the very real possibility of being without a home again earlier this year. The family was moving to a smaller place and there wasn’t room for Williams and her 5-year-old daughter, Miacayla.

Williams was determined to not put her daughter through the turmoil she’d endured. She needed stability in her life.

“I’m just a person that don’t bother people unless I really need help,” Williams said. “It (being without a home) didn’t really bother me that much when I was young. It didn’t bother me until now when I’m getting older and wiser and I have a child.”

She and Miacayla had a home before in Virginia. But Williams said they lost both the home and her vehicle.

“I was struggling. My job wasn’t paying enough, I had a car note, taking care of her, her father was in and out of her life,” she said.

In March 2020, Williams landed a job as a custodian with the Gaston County public school system. Around that same time, she and Miacayla found a temporary home at the Gaston Inn, paying on a weekly basis.

Each weekday at 6 a.m., she and Miacayla left their room at the hotel on East Franklin Boulevard and walked five blocks to the bus stop at the Eastridge Mall. Miacayla was dropped off at daycare and Williams at the Gaston County School District office, where she was taken to whatever school she was working at that day. In the afternoon, the process would reverse itself with Williams and Miacayla walking back into their hotel room 12 hours later.

While blessed to have a job, Williams, who was without a car and had little money, was going to need a minor miracle and an angel.

Who knew the minor miracle would be linked to the coronavirus COVID-19 that has caused financial hardship, sickness and death to so many? Economic Impact Payments distributed by the federal government in April provided an unexpected boost to Williams’ bank account.

The stimulus check was a blessing, Williams said. The $1,700 she received for herself and Miacayla provided the security deposit and first month’s rent for an apartment at The Oaks at Edgemont apartment complex in Gastonia.

“This is the time to step out and try,” Williams recalled thinking as she held the check in her hands. “And when I tried, God opened that door.”

Thomasina Williams gets a hug from Phyllis Lowery as several vehicles from Risa’s Special Delivery loaded with furniture and household items pull into the parking lot of The Oaks apartment complex in Gastonia, N.C., on Saturday afternoon, May 9, 2020. [Mike Hensdill/The Gaston Gazette]

Phyllis Lowery, who has been a bus driver for the city of Gastonia Transit System for the past four years, remembers seeing Williams walking along the street.

“I used to see her walking a lot and one day we had Free Friday,” Lowery recalled. “I stopped and told her, ’You know, the bus is free all day today. You can ride anywhere you need to go.’”

That initial conversation would stem more talks and Lowery would come to learn that the woman she saw each of those cold mornings was out searching for a job.

“I started learning a lot about her,” Lowery said. “It had got to the point where she was in tears. She just didn’t know what to do and she felt like giving up.”

Williams told Lowery she had found an apartment, but didn’t have anything else other than she and her daughter’s few belongings. That’s when Lowery decided to act.

Lowery has been a member of Risa’s Special Delivery since its formation in January 2018. Over the past two years, the non-profit organization has made numerous donations to families and individuals in need. Lowery said she enjoys being a member of a group that’s devoted to helping people.

“Right now, everybody’s basically paycheck to paycheck,” Lowery said. “When we all come together to help and support each other, it makes it special.”

Thomasina Williams gives a hug to Florence Eury, left, after several vehicles from Risa’s Special Delivery arrived at her home at The Oaks apartment complex in Gastonia, N.C., on Saturday afternoon, May 9, 2020. [Mike Hensdill/The Gaston Gazette]

Lowery contacted Florence Eury, the founder of Risa’s Special Delivery, and told her of Williams’ plight. The story resonated with Eury.

“I’ve never been homeless, but as a single mother it touched my heart,” Eury said. “I could never imagine being homeless with my children.”

On Saturday, May 9, 2020, about 20 members with Risa’s Special Delivery went up and down the apartment complex stairs carrying items into Williams’ home. They were cleaning, helping to build bed frames and arranging furniture.

Eury said it was fitting that the delivery was made the day before Mother’s Day.

“It was planned for next Saturday, but I told them, ’I dare not have her stay in here with nothing on Mother’s Day. This is her Mother’s Day gift,” she said.

In just three days after asking for help on the group Facebook page, Eury said they were flooded with donations.

“Stuff just started coming in,” she said. “They got nice things and she had nothing. This is the first time we’ve done a complete makeover. It’s just a blessing.”

Perry and Florence Eury help carry furniture and household goods as Risa’s Special Delivery made a delivery to Thomasina Williams’ apartment.
[Mike Hensdill/The Gaston Gazette]

On Friday, May 8, 2020, Williams and her daughter entered their own apartment for the first time. On Saturday night, they sat in a fully-furnished apartment, surrounded by new couches, beds, lamps, television and plants with a full refrigerator and microwave.

“I don’t think it’s going to hit me until later,” Williams said. “It’s just been so long. Five years for my daughter… it’s a big blessing. This is the first time I’ve ever had someone come in and help me.”

She believes having their own home can change both her and her daughter’s life.

“I just want to tell everybody to ’keep your head up and keep on pushing, just keep pushing,’” Williams said. “This right here changed my life.”

Meet the man who handcuffed the Centennial Olympic Park bomber

Jeff Postell was a rookie cop in his first few months on the job when he captured Eric Rudolph, the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bomber and one of America’s Most Wanted.
Read his story and his thoughts on the man who has the coldest eyes of any man he’s met in his life.

Better than Barney Fife! Jeff Postell captured Eric Rudolph in a small mountain town in North Carolina on May 31, 2003

Note: An edited version of this story first appeared in the Friday, Dec. 13, 2019, edition of The Gaston Gazette newspaper in Gastonia, N.C.

By Michael Banks

Though he now patrols a college campus and makes his home in the Northeast, the man who put the handcuffs on Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph says North Carolina will always remain a part of who he is.

On the walls of Jeff Postell’s office at the Boston College Police Department are FBI wanted posters, one of them “the size of a Volkswagen bug,” showing Rudolph, who in the spring and summer of 2003, was one of America’s 10 most wanted criminals after being identified in 1998 as the person responsible for the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta during the 1996 Summer Olympics. Two people would die from the blast and 111 were injured.

“Richard Jewell,” a film that debuted Friday, Dec. 13, 2019, tells the story of Jewell, a Centennial Olympic Park security guard who came under FBI suspicion for involvement in the crime, becoming the prime suspect and an international news story.

Also hanging on those same walls in Postell’s office are limited-edition sketches of one of his favorite television programs, “The Andy Griffith Show” depicting scenes from the fictitious town of Mayberry that was similar in so many ways to the North Carolina mountain towns where he grew up and achieved worldwide fame.

Postell, who is now 38, is quick to name off some of his favorite “Andy Griffith” episodes – the time a goat swallowed dynamite and diminutive deputy Barney Fife’s attempt to join the state police – as he grew up watching the show with his grandparents, who adopted and raised him and are the people he refers to as mom and dad.

“It really taught you about being a good person, being humble and being an individual who is willing to take care of people and help people with their problems and doing the right thing.”

He is quick with a loud laugh when asked if Barney Fife would have ever been capable of catching one of America’s most wanted.

“If you’re comparing me to Barney Fife, I might take offense to that,” he said laughing. “Do I think Barney could have done it? Perhaps. He had a niche for stumbling upon things very similar to what I did, I guess.”

But Postell, who was a 21-year-old rookie cop 10 months into his first job when he made his most famous arrest, is quick to point out he was out there just doing his job that fateful night.

“The one thing that really irritates me over the years is when people say that I got lucky,” he said. “You only need luck when you go to a casino.

“I think the arrest of Eric Rudolph had nothing to do with luck. It was being vigilant, it was being responsible, being in the field, being on the job, doing what people expected me to do, what people hired me to do.”

Murphy Police Officer Jeff Postell is shown in Murphy, N.C., Sunday, June 1, 2003 .(AP Photo/Alan Marler, File)

I think the arrest of Eric Rudolph had nothing to do with luck. It was being vigilant, it was being responsible, being in the field, being on the job, doing what people expected me to do, what people hired me to do.”

— Jeff Postell

Encounter of a lifetime

Postell credits the training he received in the police academy and field training program for preparing him for his encounter with Rudolph, who in May 2003 was a subject of a nationwide manhunt and was believed to be hiding in the Appalachian wilderness.

“Louis Pasteur said ‘chance favors a prepared mind,’” Postell said of the motto that was ingrained in him by his field training officer. “Always be prepared for what you may engage in, be ready, always know where you’re at.”

In keeping with his training, Postell had been changing up his routine during his first few months on the job with the Murphy Police Department.

“I never had a set pattern and routine, there was no trend he could follow,” Postell said of Rudolph, who, as investigators would later find out, was monitoring police movements from atop his perch on a nearby mountain.

Rudolph would even mention later to police that Postell had nearly caught him a few months prior, thanks to his altered patrols and never following the same routine. Rudolph told investigators that things might have gone differently that night as he had a gun.

It was around 3:30 in the morning on May 31, 2003, when Postell was making his usual patrol as he was the only officer on duty within the town limits at that time of day.

Driving around the back of a Sav-A-Lot located in a strip mall, the rookie officer noticed an individual near a trash bin behind the building. When he spotted the police car, the person then tried to run and Postell noticed the subject had a long, dark object that he thought could be a gun, but which later proved to be a flashlight.

“I knew there was something definitely drastic that was going on,” Postell recalled. “I had no idea who he was.”

Postell was able to corner the man behind some milk crates and then get him onto the ground and handcuff him. The man told Postell he was homeless and that he had hitchhiked from Ohio. He had no identification, saying he had never had the need for a Social Security number, and then gave a fictitious name.

“That raised a red flag in my mind,” Postell said.

He said a deputy sheriff, who was one of the backup units that had arrived, had known Rudolph from many years prior when they attended school together. Upon seeing the man handcuffed, he pulled Postell to the side and said, “You know, he kind of has a weird resemblance to Eric Rudolph.”

Postell didn’t believe it.

“I was like, ‘Ha, you’re being funny.’ No way.’”

It was only when they had taken the man to jail and then pulled up a wanted poster on the FBI website that things began to become clear. While the person before them had little resemblance to the sketch provided by the FBI, a physical description of Rudolph was provided.

“I’m getting the hair color right, I’m getting the eye color right, I’m getting the attached ear lobes,” Postell said. “And then on the FBI poster, it said there was a little scar on his chin.”

He peered closely at the man who sat across from him in the jail cell.

“His head was tilted back and he was kind of staring at the ceiling and the scar on his chin was staring me right in the eye,” Postell recalled. “That’s when the butterflies in my stomach really started churning.”

The officers printed out the pictures and walked over and surrounded the man. They held the pictures behind his head so he couldn’t really see what they were looking at, comparing the pictures and the man before them.

They asked him to tell them who he was. The man didn’t reply. They asked him again.

“And he says, ‘What does that paper say,’” Postell recalled. “I remember one of the officers said, ‘Listen, that’s not what you were asked. Tell us who you are.’ And that’s when he kind of laughed a little bit and in the darkest, deepest, coldest tone he said, ‘I’m Eric Robert Rudolph and you’ve got me.’”

Postell and the other officers were stunned.

“My knees knocked so much that I answered them,” he said. “The hair on the back of my neck stood straight up and I said, ‘Oh, boy!’”

In this June 2, 2003 file photo, Eric Robert Rudolph, center, is escorted from the sheriff’s department in Murphy, N.C. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

“I can remember being very nervous and very anxious to see him. Eric Rudolph had the coldest eyes I’ve ever seen in an individual. His eyes were so cold and so dark,”

— Jeff Postell

Whirlwind

The next hours and days would be a whirlwind of activity for Postell and the town of Murphy.

Media descended on the area, seeking the story of how a rookie cop and a small town police force, numbering just 10 full-time officers, had captured the man who had eluded the FBI for seven years.

There were interviews and fan mail. People magazine made him one of its 25 hottest bachelors of 2003. He was getting recognized everywhere.

“It was just crazy,” recalls Postell.

But through it all, he was able to remain who he was – a humble, down-to-earth guy.

“If it did anything, it made me even more humble,” he said. “I am just Jeff Postell.”

Postell credits his upbringing for staying true to himself.

“I did nothing special, I was just doing my job,” he said, crediting the other officers who assisted him that night after he had handcuffed and brought in Rudolph.

“It wasn’t about Jeff Postell. This was hundreds of people, thousands of people who had been impacted by his acts. Having that opportunity to help close that chapter and help provide them a sense of comfort and closure. To me, that’s what was important.”

There was a $1 million reward offered for information leading up to the arrest of Rudolph. And while the mayor of Murphy pushed for Postell to receive the reward, he never received a dime.

“If you’ve ever met a screwed-out-of-a-million-dollar guy, then I’m the guy. I say that jokingly,” he said. “If I had a nickel for every time somebody asked me about the million dollar reward, that million dollars would be pocket change.”

Postell says he never feels he was entitled to the reward.

“I was on duty, acting in my capacity as a police officer doing the job I was hired to do,” he said. “The million dollar award never crossed my mind. That money was not worth it to me.”

Postell said had he got the reward he would have donated it to charity, the city of Murphy and the police department.

Eric Robert Rudolph is led to a waiting police car by U.S. marshals as he leaves the Jefferson County Jail for a hearing in Birmingham, Ala., Wednesday, April 13, 2005. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Forever linked

Postell admits that he’ll forever be connected with Rudolph, but it’s something that he never brings up, only responding when questioned about it.

He would have a few interactions with Rudolph over the days and years following his arrest. He would lead the convoy to take Rudolph to the airport where he would eventually be placed in the federal penitentiary system.

“I watched him come out of the jail. He saw me. I saw him,” he said of the glare he received from Rudolph.

And it would be during Rudolph’s trial in Birmingham, Ala., a few years later where they would have a final interaction.

“I can remember being very nervous and very anxious to see him. Eric Rudolph had the coldest eyes I’ve ever seen in an individual. His eyes were so cold and so dark,” Postell recalled.

“I believed that he wanted to intimidate me. I walked into that courtroom and I sat very close to where he was sitting and I did not take my eyes off of him. And I do not believe that he did not look at me once. And that said a lot to me about who he is as a person.”

In order to avoid the death penalty, Rudolph would accept a guilty plea for the murder of a police officer in 1998 during the bombing of an abortion clinic in Birmingham, as well as the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta and the bombing of a lesbian bar and an abortion clinic in Sandy Springs, Ga.

Rudolph, 53, is serving his life sentence at the federal Supermax prison in Colorado.

Postell did say he’d read the book that Rudolph published in 2013 titled “Between the Lines of Drift: The Memoirs of a Militant.”

“There was no surprise to me to what was included in the book. I would say it was not one of the New York Times’ best-sellers.”

Security guard Richard Jewell, the Olympic bombing hero and FBI suspect, gets into his attorney’s automobile in Atlanta, in this Aug. 6, 1996, file photo. Jewell was later cleared and Eric Rudolph was convicted in the bombing. (AP Photo/Ric Feld)

Impact of “Richard Jewell”

With the debut of the movie “Richard Jewell,” Postell said there has been renewed interest in his story. There have been multiple interviews, including one with Fox News.

He planned to watch the movie Friday night with his family. He did not expect to see his name or role mentioned in the arrest of Rudolph as he was not consulted by the filmmakers.

“This movie is not about me,” Postell said. “This is about Richard Jewell, who was wrongfully accused and paid dearly for it.”

He said he believes the film will generate some questions and interest, but he worries about the impact on the families of those who were injured or killed in the explosions in Atlanta and Birmingham.

“I just hope the movie’s been done tastefully for the people who were impacted by the bombings,” Postell said. “When you witness something traumatic and you have a loved one that dies or get seriously injured, that does not ever go away.”

While he will forever be associated with Rudolph that does not define who Postell is.

Moving on

After becoming assistant chief of the Murphy Police Department and serving as a campus resource officer in Jackson County, Postell made the move to Massachusetts after a visit in 2008.

Since 2009, he has worked with the Boston College Police Department, which keeps watch over some 14,500 students. He started out as an officer, became a sergeant in charge of community policing and, in 2014, was promoted to lieutenant in charge of a 40-officer patrol division.

He and his partner make their home in Taunton, Mass., a town of nearly 60,000 residents just south of Boston. They have an 18-year-old son, who they adopted when he was 13.

He was elected to the City Council in 2016 and is just finishing up his first term as the council president. He will be serving another two-year term starting in January after winning re-election in November.

While he’s embraced life in the Northeast, Postell says North Carolina will forever be his home.

“I’m very proud of my background and my heritage,” said Postell, who grew up in Andrews. “I think the people of North Carolina are wonderful, amazing people.

“If you venture out from North Carolina for any extended period of time, you start to miss it. You start to realize how important the people are, how important the values are there and just the way of life. It’s a different way of life.”

His last visit to Gaston County was in 2015 and he says he’ll always include stops at the Shrimp Boat and Tony’s Ice Cream during his trips here. He’s grateful for his family that includes his sister-in-law, Shirley Postell, who makes her home in Gastonia, as well as numerous cousins that live in Gaston and Cleveland counties.

“My entire family means so much to me. I’ve been blessed to have a great family, a supportive family and a family that I’ve been able to make proud,” Postell said.