MURPHY, N.C. – Friends say Jeff Postell, a rookie police officer in this small mountain town, has his eye on bigger things -- like becoming an FBI (search) agent.
On Saturday, he did what hundreds of FBI and other law enforcement officers couldn't, arresting one of the nation's most wanted fugitives, Eric Robert Rudolph (search).
The 21-year-old thought he had nabbed a run-of-the-mill prowler before a colleague recognized Rudolph and the suspected bomber -- with a sigh -- revealed his identity.
"I was doing what I was supposed to be doing," Postell said. "That's just in a day's work. I don't really deserve any credit."
For years, Postell aspired to join Murphy's police force, but had been blocked by the department's minimum age of 21, Chief Mark Thigpen said. With police academy courses from a community college under his belt, he joined the force on his birthday in July.
By the time Postell became an officer, the search for Rudolph had dwindled from hundreds of federal agents combing vast areas of wilderness and national forests to a few officers and volunteer hunters. Rudolph had long been thought to have hidden in the mountains of western North Carolina, which he has been familiar with for more than two decades.
Postell was working an overnight patrol shift when he spotted a suspicious man crouching in the middle of an alley behind a shopping center.
"I was under the impression I had a potential breaking and entering or a prowler," he said.
As Postell approached, the man saw him and darted behind stacked milk crates. The officer pulled his gun "and advised him to come out. He complied with everything I asked him to do."
Postell had the man spread-eagled on the asphalt by the time the first backup officer, Charles Kilby, arrived. Cherokee County Sheriff's Deputy Sean Mathews, who arrived a short time later, was the first to realize the suspect looked like Rudolph, Sheriff Keith Lovin said.
The man initially claimed his name was Jerry Wilson when he was taken to jail, but it didn't check out, Kilby said.
Kilby said he was in a room with Mathews and Jody Bandy, a police officer with the Tennessee Valley Authority, when Bandy asked the suspect, "What's your real name?"
"Eric Robert Rudolph," the man replied.
Kilby said Rudolph appeared to sigh with the admission, then added, "I'm relieved."
Friends said the arrest is the kind of thing Postell has always wanted to accomplish. He worked as a security guard at the Wal-Mart in Murphy before joining the police department.
"He was the best at every job he did," former co-worker Linda Liska said. "He's always talked about wanting to be in the FBI or the Secret Service. ... I hope this helps him."