- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 10, 2008

— The father-in-law of the U.S. Olympic men’s volleyball coach was fatally stabbed and his wife was seriously injured Saturday when a Chinese man attacked them at the ancient Drum Tower in Beijing before hurling himself to his death.

The crime marred the first full day of Olympic competition and came just hours after a dazzling opening ceremony heralded a triumphant start to the games for a host nation bent on impressing the world.

The victims were Todd and Barbara Bachman of Lakeville, Minn., the parents of former U.S. women’s volleyball player Elisabeth Bachman, who competed in Athens in 2004 and is married to the coach of the men’s team, Hugh McCutcheon. Mr. Bachman died of his wounds and his wife was taken to the hospital with injuries described as “serious and life-threatening” by the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC). The couple’s Chinese guide also was wounded in the attack.

The incident occurred just after midday at the 13th-century landmark, a renowned tourist spot north of the Forbidden City and surrounded by bars and restaurants popular with foreign tourists and expatriates.

The Chinese man, identified as 47-year-old Tang Yongming, from the eastern province of Zhejiang, assaulted Mr. and Mrs. Bachman while they were standing on the second story of the tower with their daughter and their Chinese tour guide.

Elisabeth Bachman escaped unharmed but the tour guide suffered injuries, according to Beijing police. The assailant then leapt off the 130-foot balcony to his death.

The volleyball team is “deeply saddened and shocked,” said Darryl Seibel, a USOC spokesman.

He said the two victims “were not wearing apparel or anything that would have specifically identified them as being members of our delegation” or as Americans.

The U.S. Embassy was quick to dispel any concerns that the attack was premeditated and directed at Americans or foreigners.

“We don’t believe this was targeted at American citizens, and we don’t believe this has anything to do with the Olympics,” embassy spokeswoman Susan Stevenson said.

President Bush, who earlier spent the day tackling the Olympic mountain biking course and joking with the U.S. women’s beach volleyball team and women’s softball team, sent his condolences to the victims in the hospital.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families,” Mr. Bush told reporters. “And the United States government has offered to provide any assistance the family needs.” Mr. Bush on Sunday is expected to attend services at a Protestant church and speak publicly on behalf of religious freedom. He also is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

“It is impossible to describe the depth of our sadness and shock in this tragic hour,” said USOC Chairman Peter Ueberroth. “Our delegation comes to the games as a family, and when one member of our family suffers a loss, we all grieve with them.”

Shortly after the incident, police cordoned off the streets leading to the Drum Tower and padlocked the gates to the complex. The body of the killer, shrouded in a white police blanket, was soon removed and replaced with a dusting of sand to hide the blood stains on the grey tiles.

Later in the afternoon, eyewitness accounts were hard to come by.

A cluster of tiny shops looks directly onto the area of the Drum Tower where the killer had hurtled to his death hours earlier.

However, the shop owners barely responded to any questions and claimed they knew nothing of what had happened, leading to speculation that they had been told by police not to speak to foreign journalists about the incident.

A number of plainclothes security officials hovered around the square behind the Drum Tower, where members of the local community often gather to gossip at dusk.

Many who had just returned home from work had no idea why they were huddled together watching a U.S. news crew broadcasting from the site. One Chinese man, when told what had happened, said with a dismissive wave: “That’s impossible.”

Many residents were concerned the world would look unfavorably upon China because of the incident and were desperate to show the friendliness that foreigners have become so accustomed to in Beijing.

“It’s just one crime by one bad man. We Chinese like foreigners and welcome them to Beijing. The other day I even directed one tourist to Ditan Park because he was lost,” said 52-year-old local resident Yu Zhida, who was jogging.

“I’m really worried this will have a seriously negative influence on the Olympics. It’s like if we make a big bowl of delicious soup and then a mouse jumps in. The whole thing is ruined,” he said, referring to a popular Chinese saying.

News of the attack is likely to upset Chinese authorities, who have spent lavishly for Olympic security that has been criticized for being overbearing and a means to suppress protests.

More than 100,000 police officers and military personnel have been enlisted to patrol the streets, backed up by 400,000 mostly elderly public security volunteers from local neighborhood committees.

Before the games began, Vice President Xi Jinping said: “If the Olympics are not safe then there is nothing else worth speaking of.”

Another resident living next to the Drum Tower, who would only give her surname, Luo, said she felt devastated for the Chinese government.

“They put in so much effort to make sure everything was safe for the Olympics and then this happens,” she said. “This is not like Beijing at all. Please don’t be worried. Are you worried?” she asked.

The crime rate in Beijing is low, particularly for a capital city with a population of 17 million, and attacks on foreigners are rare. Punishments for crimes against foreigners are more severe than for crimes against Chinese.

A Canadian model was murdered last month in Shanghai after disturbing a burglary, according to police. In March, a man boarded a bus and took 10 Australian tourists hostage in Xi’an, threatening to detonate a bomb strapped to his body. He was shot by a police sniper.

“I’m shocked and upset for China,” said Nina Lenton, 28, a British dietitian from London, who lives close to the Drum Tower.

“I’ve always felt very safe here, much safer than in my own country. I’m always happy to walk home late at night on my own.”

It remains to be seen how the Chinese government, whose reflex is often to bury news that could portray the country in a negative light, handles the aftermath of the killing.

State-run television did not interrupt programming of the games, and the English-language Web site of official news agency Xinhua made no mention of the incident, choosing instead to concentrate on the Chinese gold medal winner in women’s weightlifting, Chen Xiexia.

The Chinese foreign ministry had not released a statement by 2 a.m. local time.

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