They wait. They pray. They wear T-shirts with the face of a bearded man and a message: “Free Don Hutchings.”
The people with the shirts seem like family members as they mourn the kidnapping of Hutchings, a Spokane psychologist abducted two years ago by a terrorist group in northern India.
But the truth is, most of them have never met him.
They became involved only a year ago when his wife, Jane Schelly, returned from India. Now, this group of 40 people want others to learn about Hutchings and remember him. More than anything, they want him home.
“Everyone is horrified that something like this could happen to anyone anywhere,” said Jody Bergum of Spokane. “That poor woman (Schelly) has so much going on in her life. I can’t imagine … her personal anguish.”
On Friday, the second anniversary of Hutchings’ kidnapping, Bergum and about a dozen others tied five giant yellow ribbons on the footbridge behind downtown Spokane’s Opera House.
They stood nearby with a poster-sized, color photo of Schelly and Hutchings taken before he was kidnapped. They also sold gray commemorative shirts and gave away hundreds of 1-inch yellow ribbons that people pinned on their clothing.
Yellow symbolizes remembrance, said Maria Ranniger, who helped make the giant bows out of soft, plastic material normally draped on picnic tables.
The memorial Friday morning was one of many events this week to remind Spokane that Hutchings is in captivity. A moment of silence was observed as a tribute to Hutchings during the evening fireworks celebration at Riverfront Park.
While most passers-by simply looked at the bows with curiosity Friday morning, a few stopped to ask questions. Some also bought shirts and grabbed pins. “I’m a lady with money who knows Don,” one woman said as she smiled and handed a $20 bill to the vendors.
Most of the people who organized the memorial events learned about Hutchings through the Mountaineers Club, an outdoor organization with about 800 local members, including Hutchings and Schelly.
Six months ago, Beth Fifield became involved after she went on a cross-country skiing trip with Schelly in Winthrop. Schelly, who was her roommate during the trip, was so open about what happened to Hutchings, Fifield recalled. Since then, the two have become friends.
As friends remember her husband, Schelly is in Kashmir this month, seeking information about him from villagers and government officials.
“Jane is so resilient,” Fifield said. “It’s so traumatic for her, to not have closure. You can’t make plans for the future. … She’s constantly looking for the pieces that fit.”
Dan Robisch, a Mountaineer, recalled seeing Hutchings at several club events.
Although they’ve never talked, Robisch said he feels as if he knows the man after what he’s heard from Hutchings’ friends.
“Everyone says he’s special and that he’s a great guy,” Robisch said. “I guess I’ll find out when he gets back.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 photos (1 color)
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