BEIJING - In an incident that cast a shadow over the start of competition, a Chinese man with a knife attacked the parents of a former U.S. Olympic volleyball player and their Chinese tour guide yesterday, killing one of the Americans before committing suicide.
The victims were Todd and Barbara Bachman of Lakeville, Minn., the parents of Irvine, Calif., resident Elisabeth "Wiz" Bachman, who was a member of the 2004 Olympic team. She is married to Hugh McCutcheon, the current coach of the U.S. men's volleyball team.
Todd Bachman died of his wounds, and his wife was hospitalized in serious condition.
The incident happened shortly after noon at the 13th-century Bell Tower, a landmark five miles from the Olympic village in a neighborhood of lakes, restaurants and bars popular with tourists. The attacker stabbed his victims, then jumped from the tower's second story, about 130 feet above street level, killing himself. He acted alone, the U.S. Olympic Committee said in a statement, quoting Beijing police.
The identity card of the Chinese man listed him as Tang Yongming, 47, from the eastern province of Zhejiang, according to the official New China News Agency.
The incident was not a welcome development for Chinese leaders, who have deployed more than 100,000 police and military personnel to safeguard the Games, in addition to several hundred thousand neighborhood watch volunteers. Top leader Xi Jinping, the presidential heir apparent, earlier said security would be a top barometer of the Games' success.
Beijing and Shanghai have low crime rates for cities of their size, and attacks against foreigners in China are rare.
"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. "To the best of my knowledge, this is a random action and not targeted at Americans. It's just that you don't expect something to happen in a country like this."
Penny added that he has spoken to team leaders and will talk to their 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, was fully briefed on the incident, said Susan Stevenson, information officer at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
Bush, speaking with reporters, said he and First Lady Laura Bush were saddened by the attack on the American family and their guide.
"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 said.
A 40-year-old shopkeeper in a refreshment shop near the Drum Tower, surnamed Li, who declined to give her first name after police warned her not to talk, said she was watching a televised weightlifting competition when she heard a commotion. Peeking outside, she discovered the crumpled body of a man on the gray cobblestones within the tower complex, she said, only to learn later 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 on the scene, according to 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 incident's timing and high-profile nature come at an awkward time. China has geared up its vast security apparatus, forced out thousands of critics from 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 Chinese respect Americans, and most were pleased with Bush's decision to attend the Olympics.
USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said the victims were not credentialed to the team and wore nothing that identified them as Americans, adding that Chinese police have said they believe it was a random act of violence. He added that members of the men's volleyball team are shocked but plan to compete today as scheduled, nor does the USOC have any plans to change its security arrangements.
U.S. athletes received strong applause when they entered the Olympic stadium, known as the Bird's Nest, at the opening ceremony Friday night, especially when Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant appeared on a giant screen. The U.S. Embassy's Stevenson said the fact that the assailant also attacked a Chinese tour guide should blunt any misperception that this was anything other than a troubled individual.
By late afternoon, new waves of tourists flocked to the Drum Tower area largely unaware of what had taken place a few hours earlier.
"Of course it's a little scary, but any time you have so many coming together there is a chance that something like this would happen," said Diego Mendoza, a 27-year-old doctoral student visiting from Canada. "I'm very surprised because all of the locals we have met say it's very safe."
Mark Magnier and Evan Osnos write for the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, respectively.