Olympics takes deadly turn for kin of US coach

Father-in-law is stabbed while touring China site

Todd Bachman was CEO of a Minnesota gardening firm. Todd Bachman was CEO of a Minnesota gardening firm.
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Patricia Wen and Shira Springer
Globe Staff / August 10, 2008

BEIJING - China's rulers thought they had left nothing to chance.

Declaring security a top priority for the Olympics, they had deployed 100,000 antiterrorist police officers and soldiers. They installed some 300,000 surveillance cameras around the city. They even ordered the removal of the city's vagrants, homeless, and mentally ill.

Yet 12 hours after the spectacular opening ceremony, in an imperial tower just north of the Forbidden City, a 47-year-old unemployed Chinese man allegedly stabbed an American couple in town for the Olympics, and their Chinese guide.

Todd Bachman, 62, whose son-in-law is the coach of the US men's indoor volleyball team, died from his wounds, while his wife, Barbara, also 62, was reported in serious condition late last night after undergoing eight hours of surgery. She was in critical but stable condition.

The American couple, from Farmington, Minn., are the parents of former Olympic volleyball player Elisabeth Bachman McCutcheon, who is married to Hugh McCutcheon, coach of the men's volleyball team. Todd Bachman was chief executive officer of Minnesota-based Bachman's floral home and garden centers. The couple's daughter was with them, but was not hurt. The identity and condition of the tour guide were unknown.

After the stabbing, the attacker jumped from the second story of the ancient tower, police said, killing himself and ending any hope that officials would hear from him about a possible motive.

News of the noontime stabbing was an inauspicious beginning to the first full day of Olympic competition in China. This capital city of 15 million prides itself on public safety and regal orderliness.

Beijingers had also just come off an emotional high from Friday night's Olympic opening ceremonies. That event, triggering a surge of patriotism through the city, was held less than 4 miles away from the ancient Drum Tower where the stabbing took place.

"It's very tragic," said a neighbor who lives in the traditional alley-style dwellings that surround the Drum Tower, a popular tourist spot. "In normal life, these kind of things rarely happen."

The government's news agency identified the assailant as Tang Yongming, a divorced father of one who left his native city of Hangchou, located in Zhejiang Province, on Aug. 1 to visit, or perhaps settle, in Beijing.

The two cities are about 1,000 miles apart. Authorities from Zhejiang Province said that Tang's former neighbors in Hangchou did not recall him to be emotionally disturbed, according to the Xinhua news agency. Police said the former factory worker had no previous criminal record.

In a separate incident yesterday, activists breached heavy security in Tiananmen Square, but were confronted by angry Chinese onlookers as they wrapped themselves in Tibetan flags and spoke about freedom in the Himalayan region.

The protesters - three Americans, a Canadian, and a German - "were calling for an end to the Chinese government's occupation in Tibet," said Lhadon Tethong, executive director of the New York-based group.

The stabbing brought words of concern from President Bush, who attended the opening ceremonies with Laura Bush.

"Laura and I were also saddened by the attack on an American family and their Chinese tour guide today in Beijing," Bush said. "The United States government has offered to provide any assistance the family needs."

Todd Bachman, his family, and the business he ran are well known in Minnesota. The company has been in the family since it was founded in 1885, and it now has 29 retail stores in the region. Todd Bachman loved volleyball competitions, and had been looking forward to his trip to the Olympics for some time.

"He was thoroughly excited about going," said his stepmother, Margaret Bachman, in a telephone interview from Buffalo, Minn. "He was very proud of his family."

The death cast a shadow over today's 12:30 p.m. (12:30 a.m. EST) men's volleyball competition against Venezuela. McCutcheon, the head coach, was reportedly with his mother-in-law at the hospital and was not planning to attend the match.

Rob Browning, the team's leader, issued a statement before the match: "As a team, there is nothing more important to us than supporting Mrs. Bachman in her struggle and supporting Hugh and Elisabeth in their grief. We are absolutely devastated by what has occurred, for their loss and for everything they are going through. Hugh has been in touch with the team throughout this tragedy and we're extremely proud of the strength he and Elisabeth are displaying. They know we're here for them in every way possible. We're banding together as a team to lift up the Bachmans and McCutcheons. We are a family, and we'll get through this together as a family," the statement said.

Peter Ueberroth, chairman of the US Olympic Committee, said "It is impossible to describe the depth of our sadness and shock in this tragic hour."

"Our delegation comes to the Games as a family, and when one member of our family suffers a loss, we all grieve with them," he said.

The US women's indoor volleyball team heard about the killing of their former teammate's father before they took on Japan in a match yesterday. After their victory, player Logan Tom was obviously shaken.

"God, we all love Wiz," she said, referring to Elisabeth. "It's hard to put it in words. That's not something that's supposed to happen."

US woman's basketball coach Anne Donovan added: "We said a prayer for them in the locker room. I get goose bumps talking about it. It's something obviously that just changes the events right now for the Olympic Games."

While the motive remains unclear, US Embassy officials said the attack "appears to be an isolated act with no connection to the Olympics" and they have "no reason to believe that the assailant targeted the victims as American citizens."

US officials say the Bachmans were not wearing any apparel that would identify them as part of the US delegation.

The US ambassador to China, Clark T. Randt Jr., visited the hospital yesterday afternoon and personally conveyed President Bush's condolences, US embassy officials said.

The Drum Tower draws visitors from across the world, with its traditional alley-style hutong dwelling and quaint storefronts. Its name comes from its role in the 13th century; workers would beat drums every hour to mark the time.

Yesterday, when police closed the tower, tourists were replaced by foreign journalists trying to pin down what happened. Gathering information from nearby shopkeepers and neighbors was not easy.

Many declined to talk, seemingly concerned about the extensive police presence and the watchful eye of neighborhood security volunteers.

The Chinese news agency said the attack occurred on the second floor of the tower. Some people spoke anonymously about hearing that an argument inside the two-story tower triggered the stabbing, and some questioned if the assailant's death was actually a suicide.

One neighbor, who gave only his surname as Zhang, said he was deeply saddened by the attack, given that it took place just after China staged a glorious opening ceremony on Friday.

Though he had no first-hand knowledge of what happened, Zhang said he heard the attacker jumped to this death, and probably had "psychological problems."

US and Chinese officials were investigating the case, though they say preliminary evidence indicates it was a random attack by a lone assailant.

"It's far too early to suggest that this has anything to do with the Olympics," said Darryl Seibel, a US Olympic Committee spokesman.

Globe correspondents John Guilfoil and Jerry Wu contributed to this report, which also includes information from the Associated Press.

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