RIO DE JANEIRO — Still visibly shaken by an attack that took place against the Rio Olympics media bus she was riding Tuesday night, American Lee Michaelson said, “What I saw and what I heard were gunshots.”
The retired U.S. Air Force captain, now a journalist covering women’s basketball, said she’s not only had firearms training but also was an assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted firearms cases, owns a gun for protection and recreation, has spent time at gun ranges – and knows what a gun sounds like.
Michaelson described the incident and showed on her cellphone a photo of the two shattered bus windows, as a throng of reporters gathered around her at Rio’s Main Press Center (MPC) Wednesday.
Official: Rocks thrown
However, Olympics Security Director Luiz Fernando Correa told a different story.
“We have a preliminary analysis that it actually was a stone and not a firearms shot. And the details will come with a report if it was thrown by hand or using any other instrument. We don’t know,» Correa said.
Michaelson said, somewhat sarcastically, that it seemed hard to believe “Brazil has some Olympic-quality rock throwers to be able to hit not one, but two windows that quickly at upper-body height moving that quickly down the road.”
And while she said it would be hard to prevent either a shooting or rock throwing in many scenarios, she was extremely upset by the response to the incident.
Michaelson said the driver should have immediately sped up the bus and “gotten to a secure place instead of attempting to stop and returning at moderate speed to the road,» and accelerated «only after reporters and photographers yelled at him to do so.”
She added that the overhead lights on the bus were never turned off after the attack, leaving those on the bus as potential targets. She said there was no first-aid kit on the bus to treat the three people who were cut by glass. But what upset her even more was the response by authorities.
“Why did not the driver, nor the police officer, nor anybody from Rio 2016 make any inquiry whatsoever into the well-being of the people on the bus, interview them about what had happened, or offered treatment to those who had been injured?” Michaelson asked.
Correa said procedures for all bus drivers will be addressed with Olympic transport officials.
Rio organizing committee spokesman Mario Andrada said he understood right after the bus was escorted back to the MPC, “medical assistance was provided, and if it was not rightly provided, then obviously we apologize and make sure this does not happen again.”
Reporter Mark Bisson of aroundtherings.com, an Olympic news website, had traveled the same route shortly before the bus that was attacked. He told VOA he does feel “a bit at risk now. I think other journalists might feel the same.”
“We are convinced that we can guarantee the safety of journalists, athletes, guests, the work force, tourists,” Andrada said. “That’s our primary responsibility and we can guarantee that.”
But after this disturbing incident, Andrada closed by saying, “If we dropped the ball on security, we need to get our act together, and we need to keep an eye on the mission that we have which is to make Rio the safest city in the world during the games.»