Nineteen people have been stabbed to death and 25 injured in one of Japan’s worst mass killings when a former employee rampaged through a facility for the disabled.
According to the fire department and local media, a man broke into the care facility in Sagamihara, on the outskirts of Tokyo, at about 2.10am on Tuesday morning.
He entered by smashing a ground-floor window with a hammer and restrained a member of staff with a cable tie before entering the areas where residents were sleeping and stabbing them.
The attack was reported to police at about 2.45am. Shortly after 3am, police arrested 26-year-old Satoshi Uematsu, who turned himself in at the local police station, saying: “I did it.”
The incident is one of the worst mass attacks in Japanese peacetime history, with a death toll exceeding the 12 killed by the Aum Shinrikyo cult’s poison gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.
The dead include nine men and 10 women aged between 19 and 70 who were stabbed in the neck. Twenty of those injured are seriously hurt.
There is no indication of terrorism, and police are still investigating the circumstances and motive. According to the Nikkei newspaper, the suspect told police: “Disabled people should not exist.”
The suspect lived close to the facility and was employed there from 2012 until February this year. The reasons for his departure are not yet known.
This February, he hand-delivered a confused but chilling letter to Tadamori Oshima, speaker of the lower house of parliament, that warned of his intentions.
“I am in a position to obliterate 470 disabled people,” he wrote, saying he would target the Yamaurien facility where he worked plus one other. “I realise this is not a normal manner of expression. But when I see the exhausted expressions and lifeless eyes of the carers, then for the sake of Japan and the world, I cannot hold back from acting.
“My goal is a world where, when seriously disable people cannot live at home or are unable to participate in society, euthanasia is possible with the agreement of their carers.”
The letter was passed to police at the time, leading to questions about whether the attack was preventable.
“A great number of people have lost their lives or suffered serious injury. From my heart, I send my sympathy and wish them peace,” said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “We must get to the bottom of the matter. The government will exert all its effort.”
“The United States offers our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those killed,” said the White House. “There is never any excuse for such violence, but the fact that this attack occurred at a facility for persons with disabilities makes it all the more repugnant and senseless.”
Although the circumstances in Sagamihara remain unclear, care facilities in Japan have come under growing strain as the number of elderly people has risen, creating a need for a large numbers of carers.
Wages in the sector are low and a widespread shortage of trained carers and nurses has been blamed for a rise in incidents of elderly abuse.
In February, a 23-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of throwing three elderly residents to their deaths at a nursing care facility in Kawasaki, also close to Tokyo.
The Yamayurien facility is located in the Tsukui district of Sagamihara, Kanagawa prefecture, about 60km from the centre of Tokyo. It accommodates up to 150 mentally disabled adults.
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