We woke this morning to the tragic news of the stabbing death of American Todd Bachman in central Beijing yesterday. My wife and I did not know Bachman but in the last year we have become good friends with his daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband, Hugh McCutcheon, head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Volleyball Team. Elizabeth played on the U.S. women’s volleyball team at the 2004 Athens Summer Games and the Bachman family was widely known, respected and loved in American volleyball circles.
The depth of our sadness was heightened because just two weeks ago on a crowded restaurant patio in Anaheim the U.S. men’s team, which trains in Orange County and is a favorite here in Beijing to medal, was given a rousing Olympic send off. County officials and volleyball supporters cheered McCutcheon and his wife, who live in Irvine. After months of preparation, Elizabeth talked excitedly that evening about The Games finally arriving and the chance to attend this year as a spectator to watch her husband coach and spend time with her parents and family.
Inexplicably and without apparent provocation, those plans were horribly interrupted when a 47-year-old Chinese national wielding a knife attacked Elizabeth’s father and mother and a tour guide about noon at a Beijing tourist attraction. Todd Bachman died at the scene and his wife and the tour guide were taken to a local hospital where Elizabeth’s mother was in “serious and life threatening” condition today. Elizabeth, who was with her parents, visiting the historic site in the central part of this capital city was not hurt. The attacker died when he leaped to his death moments later from the 130-foot high Drum Tower building.
The news of the attack triggered worldwide headlines and cast a dark cloud over The Games, particularly the American teams and travelers. On this rainy, muggy Sunday morning talk in our hotel dining room turned to security, something that has not been an issue in our four days here in China. In fact, my wife, our three children and I have walked for hours here in Beijing, including part of one day very near to where the killing occurred, and have felt remarkably comfortable even at night. On almost every street corner there is a strong police presence for The Games. Beijing officials hired an additional 30,000 personnel to bolster security efforts during the Olympics. Curiously, none of the officers stationed in public view near competition venues, on busy boulevards, or on the city’s subway system carry weapons. But their uniforms and facial expressions suggest its all business during this Olympic fortnight.
As a family our overwhelming observation of China so far is how friendly the people have been. Time and again as we have huddled trying to decipher a map, we’ve been approached with smiles and a willingness to help. Language is a big barrier for Westerners, but even when communication has failed we have been treated warmly. It makes Saturday’s senseless killing seem surreal and, frankly, shocking. The U.S. Embassy said it believed the attack was an isolated act and not directed at Americans or foreigners, given that the Chinese tour guide was also hurt. "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 in a statement.
In fact, the killing was a rare instance of violent crime against foreigners in tightly controlled China. Beijing is considered safer than most foreign cities of their size. Punishments for crimes against foreigners are heavier than for crimes against Chinese, and citizens are not allowed to own guns. The incident is exactly what China’s communist leaders did not want. They are hypersensitive to anything that could take the shine off the games, insisting issues such as China's human rights record, harsh rule in Tibet and ties with Sudan should not be raised at the sports event.
Why this attack occurred may never be known. But it most certainly will become part of Olympic history, the kind of chapter no one every wants or anticipated. Our hearts and prayers go to Hugh and Elizabeth McCutcheon and the entire Bachman family.