From left: Todd, Lee, Dale and Paul Bachman

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

Aug. 9: Bachman's CEO killed, wife injured in Beijing attack

  • Article by: Mike Kaszuba, Abby Simons and Jim Foti
  • Star Tribune
  • August 19, 2008 - 10:34 AM

The chief executive of Bachman's, a century-old floral and garden center based in Minneapolis, was killed and his wife was seriously injured in an attack Saturday by a deranged assailant as they toured an ancient landmark while attending the Olympic Games in Beijing

The death of Todd Bachman, 62, who had worked at the family-owned company since the 1960s, jolted the first day of competition at the Summer Olympics and came as Chinese officials employed heavy security measures to portray their country as welcoming and open to tourists. Half a world away, at the company's headquarters in south Minneapolis, stunned family members mourned the death of the fourth-generation company leader and the wounding of his wife, Barbara, also 62.

"He was fabulous. He was a friend," Dale Bachman, the company's president and a second cousin of Todd Bachman's, said at an emotional news conference Saturday. He said that Barbara Bachman had undergone surgery, that she was in intensive care and that "the next 24 hours are very critical."

Speaking haltingly at times, Dale Bachman described the closeness of the family. "We played together and worked together our entire lives," he said. "They were very excited about making this trip to China."

The attack took place near the Drum Tower, an ancient structure in the heart of Beijing, which was used to tell time in the imperial era. The Bachmans, along with a Chinese guide, were the targets of an apparently unprovoked attack by a Chinese man who then jumped to his death. The couple had been accompanied by their daughter, Elisabeth, a former Olympic volleyball player who is married to the U.S. men's Olympic volleyball coach, Hugh McCutcheon.

The family gave few details of the attack but said that Todd Bachman, the company's chief executive and chairman since 1994, had been walking a few steps behind his wife and daughter. When Barbara heard Todd being attacked, she went toward him.

Clark Randt, the U.S. ambassador to China, visited Barbara Bachman in intensive care at Peking Union Medical College Hospital but declined to comment on the attack.

Attacker had no criminal record

Chinese officials did not speculate on the reasons behind the attack, which occurred in an area teeming with tourists. Shopkeepers and others in the area who might have witnessed the attack declined to comment.

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.

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.

The attack left the Bachmans' friends shocked and in tears. "This is terrible, absolutely terrible," said Gerald Pint, a retired 3M official and family friend, who also lived near the Bachman family's Naples, Fla. home. "Wonderful family. Very caring and very, very friendly.

"This story will have a huge impact on attitudes relative to the Olympics," he said. "I think there's been some concern anyway, regarding the safety of being there. Obviously, this is a isolated maniac-type person."

President Bush, who is in Beijing to attend the Olympic Games, was informed of the attack, the White House said. "Laura and I were ... saddened by the attack on an American family and their Chinese tour guide today in Beijing. 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," Bush said in a statement.

A family legacy

Todd Bachman was the latest family member to head the 123-year-old business. He and his cousins in senior management oversee the company's 1,300 employees at 29 locations throughout the Twin Cities area. The company, a Twin Cities institution, began in 1885 as a vegetable farm in south Minneapolis and now includes full-service floral, gift and garden and landscape centers.

For years, Bachman's had supplied poinsettias for the White House Christmas display. The tradition began in 1984 when the company donated a display and then-First Lady Nancy Reagan enjoyed the arrangement so much that the annual deliveries became a mainstay.

In 2000 Todd and Barbara Bachman created an endowed academic chair in horticulture marketing at the University of Minnesota, allowing the university to expand teaching and research in developing and marketing of products such as flowers and vegetables. The Bachman Endowed Chair is the first of its kind in the nation, said university spokesman Daniel Wolter.

Both the Bachmans graduated from the university. After a six-year search, Chengyan Yue was named assistant professor and holder of the Bachman Chair last year. "I just feel so sad," Yue said Saturday. Yue, who said Todd Bachman helped her with research, said she would "work harder than before" to help the couple realize the program's goals.

Todd Bachman's father, Lloyd Bachman, said his daughter and granddaughter woke him at 6 a.m. Saturday with the news of his son's death. "It's just so hard to believe that it even happened," he said.

"He was so excited about going," Lloyd Bachman said. "The last thing he said was 'I'll see you in 10 days.'"

The elder Bachman said he las talked to his son the day before he flew to Beijing. He said Bachman was confident for the U.S. men's volleyball team after it swept No. 1-ranked Brazil in a tournament two weeks ago. "He was just an outstanding, loving person, always thinking of others and what he could do for others than himself," he said.

Barbara Bachman had previously worked as an occupational therapist in the Lakeville School District. "[She] worked really well with teachers. Parents loved her," said Amy Schmidt, the principal at Christina Huddleston Elementary School in Lakeville, where Bachman once worked. Bachman, she said, was "bubbly and always smiling."

Milan Mader, who coached Elisabeth Bachman at what is now Lakeville North High School from seventh grade until about 1995, said that long after he coached the girl known as Wiz, Todd and Barbara Bachman were still regulars in the bleachers at matches. Even before the Bachmans were identified as victims in the attack, Mader said he heard the news and had a gut feeling that something was terribly wrong. "I had a strange and weird feeling," he said.

The attacks also left their impact at the Olympics, where competition had begun Saturday. The U.S. women's volleyball team was told of the attack about 5 p.m. Saturday at a team meeting, just five hours before its opening game against Japan. Many of the players who knew Bachman McCutcheon from past national teams broke into tears.

"They were the sweetest family ever," a delegation member said. "They are a really Christian family. There's not one person who has ever met them who has a negative thing to say about them. They're a great family."

"They follow USA volleyball," one team member said. "They would leave little messages for the players. The whole reason they were here is because their life is USA volleyball."

A safe city

Although Beijing is a city of 17 million, its streets are generally safe and few residents fear walking alone even in the middle of the night. It is illegal for private Chinese citizens to own guns.

A couple hours after the attack, the Drum Tower's gates were closed, and nearby residents said pools of blood had been cleaned up by an army of police and others. Per Jorgensen, 62, who was in Beijing for a business conference and decided to stay a few extra days to see the Olympics, said he still felt secure after hearing about the attack. "I feel sorry for what happened, but not scared. At least not yet," he said.

Staff writer Rachel Blount and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 2018 Star Tribune