Killing brings grief but not fear
In an incident that cast a shadow over the start of the Olympic Games here, a Chinese man armed with a knife Saturday attacked the parents of a former U.S. Olympic volleyball player and their Chinese tour guide, killing one of the Americans before committing suicide.
Todd and Barbara Bachman, both 62, were stabbed at the 13th century Drum Tower, a landmark five miles from the Olympic village in a neighborhood of lakes, restaurants and bars popular with tourists. The attacker then jumped from the tower’s second story, about 130 feet above street level.
Black-clad commandos swarmed the area after the attack, which left Todd Bachman of Lakeville, Minn., dead and his wife in intensive care. Barbara Bachman, who suffered multiple stab wounds, was in critical but stable condition at a Beijing hospital after about eight hours of surgery. The couple’s female guide was injured.
Their daughter, Irvine resident Elisabeth “Wiz” Bachman McCutcheon, a member of the 2004 Olympic team, was with them at the time and watched the attack in horror. Her husband, Hugh McCutcheon, is the coach of the U.S. men’s volleyball team competing here at the Summer Games, but after the attack, he did not plan to be on the bench today for the team’s opening game against Venezuela.
Chinese leaders have deployed more than 100,000 police officers and military personnel to safeguard the Games, in addition to several hundred thousand neighborhood watch volunteers. Xi Jinping, the presidential heir apparent, earlier said security would be a top barometer of the Games’ success.
Quoting Beijing police, the U.S. Olympic Committee said the assailant acted alone. His identity card listed him as Tang Yongming, 47, from the eastern province of Zhejiang, according to the official New China News Agency.
Beijing and Shanghai have low crime rates for cities of their size, and attacks against foreigners are rare in China.
“It’s really sad after the celebration of the opening ceremonies, which were the best opening ceremonies I’ve ever been at,” said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics.
Penny said he had spoken to team leaders and would talk to athletes’ families but felt no fear about being identified as an American, adding that he would continue to wear the red-white-and-blue “USA” hat he had on.
President Bush, in China for the Olympics, said he and First Lady Laura Bush were saddened by the attack.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. And the United States government has offered to provide any assistance the family needs,” he told reporters.
Todd Bachman, chief executive of a family-operated chain of garden centers and flower shops in Minnesota, and his wife are well-known in Southern California volleyball circles as boosters of the sport. Friends recalled the pair for their enduring support of their daughter’s volleyball career at UCLA and when she joined the Olympic team in Athens four years ago.
Elisabeth McCutcheon’s former coach, Andy Banachowski, said his heart went out to her and her family.
“The only comfort is that Wiz was not injured in the heinous attack,” Banachowski, who heads the UCLA women’s volleyball team, said in a statement.
Banachowski called McCutcheon’s parents “two of the most supportive and friendly people that I have ever encountered. . . . They love the sport and are beloved in the volleyball community.”
Details of the attack were sparse.
A 40-year-old shopkeeper near the Drum Tower, who gave only her last name, Li, after police warned her not to talk, said she was watching a weightlifting competition on TV when she heard a commotion. On peeking outside, she saw the crumpled body of a man on the gray cobblestones in the tower complex, she said, and later learned that it was the body of the attacker.
“I only saw the dead body,” she said. “I didn’t see anything else.”
Shortly after the attack, an estimated 300 security officers, including black-clad commandos, arrived, said two witnesses who declined to be identified, having been told by police not to speak to foreign reporters. The body was removed and the broken, bloodstained cobblestones were covered with sand.
The state media, quoting police, said the attacker divorced in 2006, had a 21-year-old son and had no fixed address or job when he arrived in Beijing from the eastern city of Hangzhou on Aug. 1 after telling his landlord that he was moving for business. He had no criminal record and his motive was unknown, authorities said.
The incident’s timing and high-profile nature come at an awkward time. China has geared up its vast security apparatus, forced thousands of critics out of Beijing and spent record sums in a bid to pull off a perfect Olympics.
“This is a very unfortunate incident,” said Jin Canrong, an international relations professor at People’s University in Beijing. “The Chinese government will try not to let this event have a serious impact on U.S.-China relations.”
In the short term, Chinese officials should cooperate fully with their U.S. counterparts on an investigation and in helping address the needs of grieving relatives, Jin said.
Although some Chinese, particularly young male Internet users, bristle at perceived insults by Americans, many respect Americans, and most were pleased with Bush’s decision to attend the Olympics.
U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Seibel said the victims wore nothing that identified them as Americans, adding that Chinese police have said they believe that it was a random act of violence. He said members of the men’s volleyball team were shocked but planned to compete today; the USOC also had no plans to change its security arrangements.
“I’m saddened, but that doesn’t make me think any less of this country,” said Sydney Thayer, director of a small New York-based film company and a veteran of nine Olympics, who was in the audience of the fencing competition Saturday. “My feeling is that this has nothing to do with China.”
Longer term, however, the incident suggests that the government needs to address rising social tension in China’s fast-changing society, Jin said. In recent weeks, the country has seen several violent outbursts, including last month’s killing of six policemen in Shanghai by an attacker wielding a knife and the killing of seven people in a mob attack in Yunnan province in May, indicating growing frustration among those left behind by the market economy, he said.
By late afternoon, new waves of tourists flocked to the Drum Tower area largely unaware of what had taken place a few hours earlier. The tower, built by Mongolian conquerors led by Kublai Khan, houses a collection of giant drums of the sort used to record the passage of time in China’s last dynasty.
Ryan Zweng, a 23-year-old San Francisco musician on his second visit to China, said the attack seemed utterly at odds with his experience.
“China is the friendliest place for Americans that I’ve ever traveled. Period,” he said. “Even after this, I still feel safer walking down the street in the middle of the night than I do in Philadelphia.”
Magnier is a Times staff writer and Osnos is a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune. Times staff writers Randy Harvey and Diane Pucin in Beijing and Louis Sahagun and Esmeralda Bermudez in Los Angeles, and Kevin Pang of the Tribune contributed to this report.