BEIJING — An assailant stabbed to death the father-in-law of the head coach of the U.S. men's indoor volleyball team Saturday and wounded the mother-in-law and a tour guide before jumping to his own death, in a brutal act that darkened the mood in China just hours after the dazzling onset of the Summer Olympics.
The attack occurred shortly after noon along an upper walkway of the Drum Tower, an ancient landmark that looms over central Beijing.
The U.S. Olympic Committee said the couple, Todd and Barbara Bachman, and a daughter Elisabeth were not wearing clothing that would identify them as part of the U.S. Olympic delegation when they were accosted by "an assailant wielding a knife."
Motives for the attack remained a mystery, and China's tightly controlled state media made only cursory mention of the slaying. Chinese internet users, some of them concerned that the assault would embarrass the nation during the Olympics, launched a "human search engine" to track down details of the killer and his family and expose them to humiliation and retaliation.
The state Xinhua news agency identified the attacker by an identity card on his body, saying he was Tang Yongming, 47, from Hangzhou city in eastern China.
Tang acted alone, Xinhua said.
The agency said Tang had quit his job at a meter factory in Hangzhou, divorced his wife and vacated his rented house on Aug. 1.
"Tang has no criminal record. His neighbors said they hadn't seen any abnormal behavior from him before left Hangzhou," a spokesman with the Zhejiang Provincial Public Security Bureau told Xinhua.
It said Tang was not a petitioner, as people with grievances against the government are commonly called, although a 21-year-old son was once sentenced to prison for theft.
"We are now looking for Tang's ex-wife and elder brother, hoping to find out what he did before the incident in Beijing and figure out his motivation," the police spokesman told Xinhua.
In a brief statement, the U.S. Embassy described the knife assault as "a senseless act of violence" and said the assailant may have picked his victims at random.
"This appears to be an isolated act with no connection to the Olympics. We have no reason to believe that the assailant targeted the victims as American citizens," the embassy said.
The attack devastated the U.S. men's indoor volleyball team, which plays its first match Sunday. Elisabeth Bachman McCutcheon, the adult daughter who witnessed the attack but was not injured, is married to Hugh McCutcheon, the head coach of the men's team. She was a member of the 2004 Olympic women's indoor volleyball team.
Her mother and the unidentified female tour guide were taken to what is widely considered Beijing's finest hospital, Peking Union Medical College Hospital, that is slightly to the east of the Forbidden City, another ancient landmark at the center of Beijing.
Barbara Bachman's injuries "are serious and life threatening," the USOC said.
President George Bush, who is in Beijing with his father, wife and other members of an extended family to see the Olympics, was notified of the slaying and sent his condolences to the family through Ambassador Clark T. Randt, U.S. Embassy spokesman Richard Buangan said.
Buangan said embassy diplomats were "working very closely with Chinese authorities" in the investigation.
"It is impossible to describe the depth of our sadness and shock in this tragic hour," said U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Peter Ueberroth. "Our delegation comes to the games as a family, and when one member of our family suffers a loss, we all grieve with them."
The Drum Tower is in an area of central Beijing frequented by tourists. The wooden tower, built in 1272 A.D. so that drummers could pound out the hour in dynastic times, is more than 150 feet high, with a second-floor walkway more than 100 feet from the ground. At mid-afternoon, police could be seen examining the wooden railing over which the assailant leaped to his death.
Yellow police tape blocked entry to the site, as scores of journalists milled at the base.
Police covered a spot with sand on the west side of the Drum Tower where the assailant jumped more than 100 feet down to his death, leaving blood stains.
Violent crime against foreigners rarely occurs in China. A Canadian model was murdered last month in Shanghai, reportedly after she came upon a robbery.
The last known fatal knife attack against foreigners occurred on April 19, 2005, when a man ran amok near the Mao Zedong Mausoleum in Tiananmen Square, stabbing to death an oil executive and his daughter from the Philippines, Emmanuel Madrigal and Regina Mia. The attack occurred following a spate of anti-Japanese rioting in major cities in China, and Filipino relatives said they believed the victims were mistaken for Japanese tourists.
The 25-year-old assailant, Wang Gongzuo, was later sentenced to death.
Government censors quickly blocked many internet sites in China where internet users began to post comments about the killing.
"This will bring troubles," posted an internet user under the pseudonym Wufei on the Bubbles Club website.
One of China's most influential portals for receiving comments on current events, tianya.cn, began denying access to postings already on the site.
China has seen "internet mobs" form in recent times among its 253 million internet users, some of whom seek to right perceived injustices by disseminating information about alleged wrongdoers. In April, a 21-year-old Chinese undergraduate at Duke University, Grace Wang, who tried to referee a dispute between Chinese nationalists and supporters of a free Tibet was targeted in a massive internet campaign.
Her parents had to go into hiding from their home in the port of Qingdao to escape persecution.