Killing of German deals new blow to US tourism

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A MANHUNT was under way in southern California last night after the killing of an elderly German tourist at a mountain beauty spot reminded the world of the epidemic of guns and violent crime in the United States.

The attack on the 62-year- old woman has shocked even crime-hardened Americans, because of its unusual circumstances: she was shot in the head, while walking around a viewing point in the San Bernardino National Forest - a tourist area generally regarded as perfectly safe.

The victim's husband, aged 64, was also shot in the back, and twice in the left cheek during the attack, which happened around noon on Monday. Despite a shattered jaw and a hole in his windpipe, he struggled to his car and drove half a mile for help.

To the amazement of police and doctors, he insisted on returning to the scene to help his wife, before being flown to hospital in Palm Springs, where he was placed on life support. Unable to speak because of his shattered teeth and severed tongue, he has only been able to communicate with police by writing notes in German. Yesterday he was in critical condition.

The couple, who are believed to have been robbed, arrived only three days earlier in California, where they were visiting their student daughter. The police have withheld their names, saying they are worried about the injured man's safety. He is the only witness to the attack.

According to officials, they were on a trip around the area - a pine-covered mountain region, dotted with hiking trails and fishing spots. The couple, from Emmerich, was travelling in a rented Oldsmobile. It is thought that they had just got out of their vehicle to explore Indian Vista Point, near the village of Idyllwild, when they were shot.

The shooting seems certain to further damage the American tourist industry. It comes less than two months after two Japanese students were gunned down in a shopping mall car park near Los Angeles, causing a huge outcry in Japan. It also follows a recent spate of bloodshed in Florida, where 10 tourists were killed within 13 months.

Residents of the surrounding mountain communities have long considered the National Forest to be a refuge from the gangs and murders of Los Angeles, 100 miles to the north-west. Angered by the attack, they have made a 'Get Well' banner, which nurses plan to hang by the injured German man's bed. Someone has erected a sign at the crime scene: 'We Are Not Afraid of You. May Justice be Done.'

The reaction to the death in Germany was muted, partly because of the killing of an American, who was found shot dead on Tuesday in a compartment of an overnight train, going from Stuttgart to Hamburg. Police said William Gregory Bledsoe, 46, a former US Army chief warrant officer, appeared to have been robbed of 8,000 German marks ( pounds 3,200).

Crime in the US, page 22