Photo: Sergei L. Loiko / Los Angeles Times
In 2002, Vitaly Kaloyev's wife and children were killed in a plane crash. He stalked the air traffic controller who was on duty all the way in Switzerland, knocked on the man's front door, and stabbed him to death.
Today, after serving just 5 years of a prison sentence, Vitaly goes back to Russia and is welcomed there as a hero:
"I don't really take offense at people who call me a murderer. People who say that would betray their own children, their own motherland," Kaloyev said. "I protected the honor of my children and the memory of my children."
By the time Kaloyev walked out of a Swiss prison and made an emotional return to this city spread in the icy shadows of the Caucasus Mountains late last year, his crime had been eclipsed by his fame and a social split over his significance. Some Russians cheer Kaloyev as a national hero, a "real man." Others are appalled by his celebrity status, which they believe highlights the worst tendencies of Russian nationalism.
Kaloyev's story is a postmodern tragedy, a tale of loss and vengeance, but also of clashing cultures -- of the deeply humanistic, man-to-man world of the Caucasus crashing confusedly into the sterilized, legalistic culture of big Western companies facing expensive lawsuits.
Although he says he blacked out and can't remember attacking 36-year-old Peter Nielsen, Kaloyev doesn't deny killing him, nor is he sorry for the man's death. Even in the earliest days of his grief, Kaloyev admits, he fixated on Nielsen, the only controller on duty when the plane carrying Kaloyev's family crashed into another plane in midair. Within two days of the crash, he had tracked down the air traffic controller's name and neighborhood. He knew that Nielsen had two children, and that his wife was pregnant with a third child.
Here's a fascinating report by Megan K. Stack of the Los Angeles Times: Link