Thunderous silence

Less than 4 hours after the murder there were no police; no crime-scene tape; no securing of the area. None of the locals seemed to have been disturbed by the killing of an American a stone's throw from their homes and shops.

It was as if nothing happened.

But then, here, that's no surprise.

There was no significant authoritative presence outside the Drum Temple, site of the grisly murder of an American attending the Olympics in China.

Traffic whizzed past, pedestrians strolled by and passenger cars tightly ringed the perimeter of the structure where, near noon here Saturday, a Chinese national killed Lakeville, Minn. businessman Todd Bachman, 62, with a knife and gravely injured his wife, Barbara, also 62, while they toured the Drum Temple, a central and ancient Beijing landmark. Their Chinese guide also was injured.

Their daughter, former Olympic indoor volleyball player Elisabeth Bachman McCutcheon, was nearby. McCutcheon's husband, Hugh, coaches the men's indoor team. As of this posting, his team's game against Venezuela at 12:30 p.m. local time Sunday -- about 24 hours after the killings -- remained unchanged.

Authorities identified the killer as 47-year-old Tang Yongming.  

Afterward, the locals went about their business as usual. Coffee shops and sundry stores not 10 feet from the tower's walls catered to ghoulish tourists and harried journalists, their owners generally claiming ignorance that anything happened; or, ignorance of what happened; or, if they submitted to an interview, declining to identify themselves.

They clearly wanted to distance themselves from the incident that embarrassed a nation 12 hours after its coming-out party. The magnificent Opening Ceremony of Friday was a frivolous expenditure come Saturday's killing.

But then, only the truly foolish would offer candid comment on such a terrible thing -- a rare violent crime against foreigners in this controlled city, a resonant act targeted at the country still shocked by its own vulnerability, still numb to the world's view of it.

This is, after all, a communist country, controlling, repressive, owner of a human rights record so tainted it had to promise the IOC to improve it to earn an Olympics. Critics of China say it reneged on those promises.

Authorities and spokespeople did not connect Yongming with any terrorist group or other movement. The USOC took pains to point out that the victims wore nothing identifying them as Americans, though a later report quoted an IOC official as saying one of them wore a volleyball pin. Regardless, even with the Olympics underway, Americans stick out here; and, of course, Americans have a distinct accent.

Officials painted him as a possibly disturbed individual. The "why" might nor matter.

What's done is done, and to Americans, by a Chinese.

One transplanted Beijing resident, fully cognizant of the Games' import to China and how awful Saturday's murder made the country look, perhaps crystallized his people's sentiment:

"I'm disappointed. Surprised. Maybe this hurts relations with China and America."

Maybe ... but maybe not on China's end. More than half a day after the incident China's government had no comment on the killings.

Saturday night, 12 hours after the attack, many of Beijing's 17 million residents and, presumably, many of the 1.3 billion people in the country had no idea what had happened.

It did not air on the government-controlled news.

Continue Reading