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Attacker kills eight students at school in Japan

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 8, 2001


OSAKA, Japan — In Japan's worst mass-killing since a deadly nerve gas attack on Tokyo's subways six years ago, a man brandishing a knife burst into an elementary school on Friday and slashed 29 people, killing at least eight children.

The 37-year-old attacker was subdued by two male teachers and arrested immediately after the stabbings in this western city. Police said he once worked as a janitor at an elementary school in a nearby city, and has an arrest record.

Two of the children died at the scene and the other six died at the hospital, said fire department spokesman Tetsuo Higashimoto. Most of the injured — all children except for three teachers — suffered minor cuts, but six were in serious condition.

An unidentified schoolgirl, talking to Japanese reporters, said that during the attack, one of the students managed to somehow get onto the school's public address system.

"There was a shriek,'' the girl said. "Then I heard a cry for help.''

Other students said they saw teachers and hallways spattered with blood.

The slashing was the deadliest mass assault in Japan since a doomsday cult attacked the Tokyo subways in 1995, killing 12 people and sickening thousands.

After Friday's attack, other schools in the area sent children home. The dead children — six girls and two boys — were first- or second-grade students, ranging in age from six to eight.

"We are filled with anger over this unfortunate situation,'' said Kaoru Nakatani, head of Osaka Education University, which operates the elementary school.

Police said the attacker, identified as Mamoru Takuma, carried a 6-inch kitchen knife. He was arrested at the scene, but was taken to a hospital — reportedly with self-inflicted injuries. He was turned over to police about an hour later.

It was not immediately clear what motivated the crime, though national broadcaster NHK and other Japanese media reported the attacker may have been under the influence of drugs.

An Osaka police official said Takuma had told police that he wanted to be put to death and that he had previously tried to commit suicide. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

Takuma was arrested in March 1999 and accused of spiking the tea of four teachers with tranquilizers at the school where he worked, but he was never prosecuted because he suffered from psychological problems, said Nobuharu Sugita, a police official in Itami, near Osaka.

Media reports in the confused hours after the school attack depicted a terrifying scene, with ambulances and police cars lining the campus and hundreds of children in their school uniforms sitting in rows on the playground as other students were treated on stretchers nearby. Nearly 700 children attend the school.

Police said the attacker climbed into a first-grade classroom from a verandah and began slashing children in the back of the room, and then moved into a hallway.

Several children were slashed in their sides and arms as he moved into other classrooms, police said. As the attacker tussled with two teachers, school officials called police and rushed the children out to the playground. Ambulances sped onto the campus and rescue workers and police rushed to care for the injured.

The attack comes as Japan grapples with a surge in violent crime. The country's strict gun laws mean most of the attacks — like Friday's — are committed with knives.

Masanori Yoshida, 56, who lives nearby, said the attack was a shock in such a quiet, residential neighborhood.

"This just isn't that kind of place,'' he said.

In the minutes after the attack, a cashier at a nearby grocery said a group of terrified, bloodied children ran into the store. "I saw one of them, a boy, with blood all over his body,'' said Ikiyo Iriye, 23. "He had been stabbed in the back.''

School and juvenile violence have been rising in recent years, punctuated by a series of sensational crimes — a shock for a country that has long enjoyed lower crime rates than other developed nations.

"This kind of thing should never happen,'' said Education Minister Atsuko Toyama. ``Schools should be places where children can feel safe and secure.''

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