Medford couple tell friends they're not in immediate danger

A Medford couple volunteering at an autism clinic in Mumbai, India, have called friends in Central Point to say they were safe amid the terrorist attacks raging around the city.

Kathy McNeill of Central Point said Thursday that Dolores Scheelen, of Medford, called her Wednesday evening and asked her to contact friends and pass on the news.

"We've been friends for over 30 years," McNeill said.

McNeill said she and her husband, Bob Harleman, grew alarmed as they watched on TV as gunmen stormed hotels and other sites in India's financial capital, killing Westerners and taking hostages.

The Scheelens went to India in late October. Bob, formerly the director of the West Medford Family Center, and Dolores, an autism expert, had found the Ummeed (Hindi for hope) Child Development Center, which works with children with a variety of developmental disabilities on an earlier visit to India to visit a son who works for the U.S. State Department.

Dolores Scheelen told McNeill the Scheelens were living in an eighth-floor apartment in an Indian neighborhood, with a "casual guard," and not in a tourist area, and that they did not feel they were in immediate danger.

"Dolores said the local people in the program they're working with sent somebody to their apartment to tell them the program had shut down for the day," McNeill said. "They told them to stay in. That it wasn't safe."

The attacks by teams of gunmen included targets such as a Jewish group's headquarters and the city's landmark Taj Mahal Hotel. The gunmen targeted Jews, Americans and Britons, asking people for their passports. A group of suspected Muslim militants claimed responsibility for the attacks.

India has had numerous bombing attacks over the past three years. Police blame Islamic militants.

The Scheelens on Monday e-mailed the Harlemans saying that they were feeling "quite comfy in our living and work places." The message spoke of arranging the details of groceries and laundry and creating private work niches, a corner shelf for Bob, a cabinet for Dolores. The couple were getting used to the Third World routine of washing vegetables in sink water, then cooking with bottled water.

"It all works, India style," the e-mail said.

The couple got the news of the American election on Nov. 5. They were cheered by Obama's victory and moved by his speech.

"We were both involved in the 1960s civil rights movement, yet we didn't expect to see the day when America elected a black president," the e-mail said.

They talked about their work, writing, "The Ummeed staff say they alternate between feeling hopeful about the families they are able to reach and discouraged about the tens of thousands without service at all. We alternate between feeling that we are making a contribution and doubting that we have anything significant to offer."

McNeill said she spoke with Scheelen for about 10 minutes. McNeill's husband, Jim Harleman, said the Scheelens expected to be in India for another three weeks.

"Bob has helped them organize the business and work with the computers," Harleman said.

He said the Scheelens had mentioned terrorist attacks in India over the previous months.

"The information they were getting was scattered and disorganized," he said. "But they realized we would be concerned."

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