In the days since a knifing attack at a Beijing tourist attraction, the coach of the U.S. men’s volleyball team said his family has been consumed with the shock of his father-in-law’s death and with arranging care for his severely wounded mother-in-law.
Hugh McCutcheon said he has been helping his wife Elisabeth Bachman, a former Olympian, “talk through” the grief. Beyond that, he said he realized the attack has affected his men’s team, which worked hard to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, and the women’s team, including teammates of Elisabeth at the 2004 Athens Games.
“The sphere of influence of this has been vast,” a gaunt, emotionally raw McCutcheon said in an interview Monday, his first public remarks on the attack and one of his few moments away from the hospital in past days.
“It hurts. I think its something that no one should ever have to go through,” McCutcheon said. “But life’s not fair so it’s never going to be about that at the end of the day. It happened and it seems that the sooner we can come to grips with that and process it, the better off we’re going to be.”
The stabbings cast a shadow on the Olympics, coming a half-day after a spectacular opening ceremony in a city where violent acts are rare, especially against foreigners. It embarrassed the Chinese government. And it saddened the U.S. Olympic team and many in Lakeville, Minn., where Todd and Barbara Bachman are from.
McCutcheon said much remained unknown about the attack, which also wounded a Chinese tour guide. The assailant, identified by police as a distraught unemployed ex-factory worker, killed himself, jumping off the upper floor of the 13th-century Drum Tower, where the attack took place. Elisabeth Bachman witnessed the stabbings. Her mother has been too weak to be questioned, McCutcheon said, though her condition was upgraded from critical to serious but stable Monday.
He and a U.S. Olympic Committee official also said they would not discuss some details because the attack was under investigation by Chinese police. But McCutcheon said the Bachmans did not recognize the man and the attack was random and unplanned, happening suddenly — perhaps without any words being exchanged, though he could not be sure. Elisabeth called McCutcheon, who left a volleyball practice and rushed to the Drum Tower, he said.
“I believe that random acts of violence are random acts of violence. There’s no indication here of any premeditation or anything,” McCutcheon said. “It seems just unfortunately a case of the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The Bachmans were in Beijing as part of a tour group for the Olympics, and their visit to the Drum Tower was part of their group’s schedule. Todd and Barbara Bachman had taken two of their daughters to Athens to watch sister Elisabeth play, McCutcheon said, and this time they came to support his team.
Only the night before the attack, the Bachmans attended the opening ceremony, and when McCutcheon marched into the National Stadium with the U.S. team, Todd Bachman sent him a text message on his cell phone. The message said that he was “happy to share in such a wonderful event.”
McCutcheon remembered his father-in-law as caring, a straight-talker and good conversationalist who was committed to his family and their community. Bachman was chairman and chief executive officer of a family-run florist and garden center, Bachman’s Inc., the fourth generation in the century-old business.
The “tragic and senseless event” made it easy to set priorities, said McCutcheon, a New Zealand native. He has focused little on volleyball and instead concentrated on caring for his family. “Volleyball is my job. My family is my life. So that distinction has been very easy for me,” he said.
“Clearly Elisabeth is a victim in this as well. Obviously she physically was unscathed. Having to deal with this has been hard for her. She has shown incredible strength. The last couple of days we’ve been able to talk through it,” he said. “Obviously it’s a lot of tears and a lot of hugs.”
One positive was Barbara Bachman’s improving condition. USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said earlier Monday that the family and USOC members were “very, very, very happy to report her condition is upgraded.” He said family members, including her two daughters who flew in from their home in Minneapolis, were at the hospital with her.
Dale Bachman, Todd Bachman’s cousin and president of the family garden center, said in Minneapolis on Monday that Barbara Bachman had opened her eyes. “That was very meaningful to them and I hope a very good sign,” he said.
In Beijing, McCutcheon said it was too soon to discuss funeral plans or say when Barbara Bachman might be moved out of China. Aside from the USOC, he thanked the Chinese Foreign Ministry and said the U.S. Embassy and U.S. President George W. Bush’s entourage provided doctors who gave medical advice.
In an open letter released Monday by the USOC, Elisabeth and Hugh McCutcheon thanked friends, family, U.S. and Chinese officials and Olympic officials for their help during a “tremendously difficult time.”
“We are extremely grateful for the outpouring of assistance and generosity that we have received and hope to convey our appreciation to everyone who has supported us and kept us in their thoughts and prayers,” they said.