Friends of kidnapped psychologist Donald Hutchings have been struggling to find any word of his whereabouts for nearly two years.
Now they have a new challenge: Raise the public profile of a Spokane man who disappeared half a world away.
Armed with paintbrushes and rollers on Saturday, six of Hutchings’ friends climbed the hill just northwest of the Monroe Street Bridge and painted a huge yellow ribbon on the old railroad stanchion that has served for several decades as “the people’s billboard.”
Spokane artist Ken Spiering helped with the outline of the large yellow ribbon and bow and the lettering that notes Hutchings was kidnapped July 4, 1995.
Monday afternoon, paint party organizer Randy LaBeff was back, painting over some graffiti that had been added to the sign over the weekend.
Other urban artists had only partially heeded the plea on a sign at the base of the stanchion to leave the ribbon up until the anniversary of the kidnapping. They had painted slogans on the background while leaving the ribbon untouched.
LaBeff, who has climbed mountains on several occasions with Hutchings, knows messages on the wall don’t last long. But even a short-lived sign will remind people about Hutchings, he said., “I just think it can’t hurt,” LaBeff said, rolling white paint over fluorescent orange.
Hutchings and five other Western tourists were kidnapped in July 1995 in Kashmir by a previously unknown group calling itself Al Faran. The group demanded freedom for prisoners who had been jailed for fighting to split the state of Kashmir from India and link it to Pakistan.
India refused to release the prisoners. One captive escaped, but another was beheaded. Hutchings and the three other captives - two Britons and one German - have not been heard from since late 1995.
Some captured rebels have said the four were executed and buried near a remote village, but no bodies have been found. Some villagers in Kashmir have reported seeing four Westerners with armed men in the mountains.
LaBeff said he swings between hope and pessimism about Hutchings’ fate. But his biggest frustration is being without information.
“We’ve got to find out where he is or what’s happened to him,” he said.
Other members of the Mountaineers Club, as well as other friends and colleagues of Hutchings’, are planning other events over the next month to keep reminding Spokane that the man still is missing, said club member Beth Fifield.
On June 29, friends plan to gather in Riverfront Park to dedicate a medallion on the Centennial Trail in Hutchings’ honor, then walk along the trail to the place where that medallion will be placed.
On June 30, the railroad stanchion will be repainted in hopes that it will be left relatively intact through July 4, Fifield said.
On July 4, mountaineers hope to tie a yellow ribbon around the Clock Tower in Riverfront Park, then rappel down the tower. They are discussing a permit with the city while seeking bids on insurance, Fifield said.
They also hope to dedicate part of the park fireworks display to Hutchings.
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