By Jill Drew and Ariana Eunjung Cha
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, August 10, 2008
BEIJING, Aug. 9 -- A Chinese man stabbed two relatives of a U.S. Olympic coach Saturday, killing a man and severely wounding his wife, as well as injuring their Chinese guide, at a popular tourist site in downtown Beijing, according to government and U.S. Olympic officials.
The attacker then jumped to his death from the second story of the Drum Tower, an ancient structure in the heart of Beijing.
The attack, on the first full day of Olympic competition, occurred despite an overwhelming security presence in the city and marred the Chinese government's efforts to showcase the country as open and welcoming to foreigners.
The victims were Todd and Barbara Bachman, the parents of former U.S. women's volleyball player Elisabeth "Wiz" Bachman, the United States Olympic Committee confirmed. Wiz Bachman, a member of the 2004 Olympic team, is married to the coach of the men's volleyball team, Hugh McCutcheon. She was with her parents at the time of the attack but was not injured, the USOC said.
Barbara Bachman was admitted to the intensive care unit at Peking Union Medical College Hospital, a doctor there said.
The women's team was told about the incident at a meeting around 5 p.m. Saturday, five hours before its opening game against Japan, which the Americans won. Many of the players who knew Bachman from previous national teams broke into tears on hearing the news.
"They were the sweetest family ever. They are a really Christian family," a member of the delegation said. "They follow USA volleyball. They would leave little messages for the players. The whole reason they were here is because their life is USA volleyball."
The larger U.S. Olympic delegation was also shaken.
"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."
Officials in Beijing identified the attacker as Tang Yongming, a 47-year-old man from the eastern city of Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, citing an identification card found on his body.
Local officials did not speculate on the reason behind the attack, which occurred about 12:20 p.m. in an area teeming with tourists. Shopkeepers and others in the area who might have witnessed the attack declined to comment, though one woman said that "there was a lot of blood," which police quickly cleaned up.
Dale Bachman, Todd Bachman's second cousin, told the Associated Press that the three family members and their guide were walking at the tower, with Todd trailing by a few steps, when he was set upon by a man with a knife. Barbara Bachman heard the commotion and returned to help her husband.
"That's when she was attacked," Dale Bachman said. "To me, that was a strong indication of her love."
The U.S. Embassy said in a statement that the attack appeared to be an isolated incident "with no connection to the Olympics."
The Bachmans were not wearing clothing that identified them as relatives or members of the U.S. delegation, the USOC said.
President Bush, who is in Beijing for the Games, said in a statement to reporters traveling with him that "Laura and I were . . . saddened by the attack on an American family and their Chinese tour guide today in Beijing. 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."
Clark T. Randt Jr., the U.S. ambassador to China, visited Barbara Bachman in intensive care to deliver Bush's message. He declined to comment on the attack. A source said Bachman had undergone surgery, but the source did not know the extent of her injuries.
China's vice minister of foreign affairs, He Yafei, also visited Bachman in the hospital and expressed his deep sympathy to the U.S. government and relatives of the victims. "The Chinese government paid high attention to this case," state media quoted He as saying. He added that law enforcement has undertaken a "serious investigation" of the case.
Beijing, a city of 17 million, is generally safe, and few residents fear walking alone even in the middle of the night. It is illegal for private Chinese citizens to own guns.
Still, there are regular reports of violent incidents throughout the country as people frustrated with government corruption or injustices lash out.
For example, a man who was angry about a rough police interrogation in Shanghai recently walked into the station and stabbed to death six police officers and wounded four others.
Attacks against tourists are rare, but the U.S. Embassy has warned they are on the rise. A reporter for New Zealand television who is covering the Games was attacked and slightly injured Friday night by a young man wielding a broken chair, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported.
In March, a Chinese man with a bomb strapped to his body took 10 Australians hostage on a bus in the tourist city of Xian. A police sniper shot and killed him. No tourists were harmed. A 22-year-old Canadian model was robbed and murdered last month in her Shanghai apartment after being in China for two weeks.
Saturday's attack rattled Chinese officials, who have made safety their top priority in hosting the Games. President Hu Jintao has said on several occasions that a secure Olympics is essential for the state's image.
The government has deployed more than 100,000 police, soldiers and plainclothes officers around the capital and has instituted bag checks at all subway and train stations, as well as at many high-traffic tourist points.
A couple of hours after the attack, officials closed the gates of the Drum Tower, an imposing imperial Chinese structure that was once used to tell time.
A manager of a local tour company said officials at the tower had not required visitors to go through a security check. The manager, Liu Jin of San Hai Travel Co., said she was unsure when the Drum Tower would reopen and whether security checks would be in place.
"My assumption is that it is a mental health issue, an individual issue," said Claire Cuddy, 60, who works in the education department of the Smithsonian Institution. "I hope it is an anomaly."
The incident highlighted China's skill at controlling information. Forensic crews had just finished up when the state-run New China News Agency first reported on the stabbing.
By the time international news crews arrived, about 20 minutes later, much of the evidence had been removed.
Around the square, several men and women with red armbands, signifying that they are members of a volunteer neighborhood watch committee that works with local officials, told witnesses to go home. Owners of the shops around the tower said they were either out when the deaths occurred or busy. One smiled politely and said he had heard nothing because his television was on too loud.
Todd Bachman was the chief executive of Bachman's, a floral, gift and nursery retailer and wholesaler in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area founded more than 120 years ago by his great-grandfather Henry Bachman Sr.
Staff writers Les Carpenter, Michael Abramowitz and Liz Clarke and researchers Liu Songjie and Crissie Ding contributed to this report.