Eight Children Killed in Knife Attack at Japanese School
Suspect in Custody
By Keiko Kanai
IKEDA, Japan (June 8) - Eight children were killed and 15 people injured at a Japanese elementary school on Friday when a former janitor with a history of mental illness went on a stabbing rampage.
It was the worst mass killing in Japan since the 1995 sarin gas attack on crowded Tokyo subways by the Aum Shinrikyo (Aum Supreme Truth) cult which killed 12 and made thousands ill.
The victims were mainly seven- and eight-year-old pupils at the school in Ikeda, a suburb of the western city of Osaka, Japan's second largest metropolitan area. Seven of those killed were girls and the eighth was a six-year-old boy, Japanese media said.
Two teachers were injured, police said, one of them a 28-year-old man who was in critical condition and needed emergency surgery after the attack. Five of the injured children were in critical condition, television reports said.
The tragedy began when the man, wielding a 28-cm (11 inch) knife, walked into a classroom mid-morning and began to stab children in a rampage that police said lasted a little over 10 minutes.
"He came in holding a knife and started stabbing," a first grade girl said.
One sixth-grade girl told Reuters: "We were listening to an announcement over the loudspeaker, and then it was broken into by a scream and a noise like a desk falling down...Then I heard someone scream from below, 'Run!"'
Several children ran into a nearby supermarket yelling and crying for help, witnesses said.
"One of the boys, whose back was stained with blood, fell in front of the cashier. He was pale and did not speak a word," a shop clerk told a television reporter. A schoolboy said "I saw a person who had fallen down. I also saw blood."
Police were holding in custody a 37-year-old man who they said had previously undergone treatment for schizophrenia.
The motive behind the attack was unclear, but NHK public broadcaster said the suspect had told police he had taken 10 times his usual dosage of tranquillisers and was babbling.
While school shootings such the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado have become a grim part of life in the United States, random tragedy on such a scale is unheard of at Japanese schools.
The quiet of the summer day around the school, in an ordinary residential area, was shattered by wailing sirens and the clatter of helicopters.
Ambulances lined the school driveway while students streamed out of the building and gathered on the school playing fields.
Frantic parents arrived soon afterwards, talking urgently into mobile phones and later left with their children, tight-lipped.
FED UP WITH LIFE
The suspect, whom police asked not be identified because of his history of mental illness, told police he wanted to suffer the death penalty for his crime.
"I was fed up with everything," police quoted him as saying, adding that he had previously tried to commit suicide. "I want to be put to death."
Media reports said the suspect had previously been arrested for allegedly putting tranquillisers in tea which he gave to teachers at a school where he was employed as a janitor, but was not tried because he was under treatment for mental illness.
The government formed an emergency task force headed by Education Minister Atsuko Toyama and sent officials to the site.
Japan's traditional reputation as a society free of random violence has been changing in recent years, and the number of senseless crimes, often committed by teenagers, has risen rapidly.
"These are not ordinary times," said Katsuhiro Kinoshita, the father of a sixth-grader at the school. "I felt the blood drain from my face when I heard."
CONCERN OVER RISING VIOLENCE
Voicing deep concern over rising rates of violent crime, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi vowed to do whatever he could to restore Japan's reputation as one of the world's safest countries.
"The safe society is crumbling. We must think of ways to deal with this problem," Koizumi told reporters.
Last year, one 17-year-old boy bludgeoned passengers at a trendy Tokyo shopping district with a baseball bat after a fight with his father; another beat his mother to death with a metal bat; a third stabbed an elderly neighbour to death because he wanted to experience killing someone.
In 1999, a man entered a school playground and stabbed to death a seven-year-old schoolboy.
One of the grisliest incidents of recent years, the 1997 murder and beheading of an 11-year-old boy, was carried out by his 14-year-old playmate.
More recently, there has been a wave of incidents on Tokyo's crowded trains, including one in which a man was killed by a fellow passenger enraged at his request for people to step back so he could board.
Reuters 14:33 06-08-01