SAGAMIHARA, Japan, July 26, (Agencies): A knife-wielding man broke into a facility for the disabled in a small town near Tokyo early on Tuesday and killed 19 patients as they slept, authorities said, Japan’s worst mass killing since World War Two. At least 25 other residents were wounded in the attack at the Tsukui Yamayuri- En facility for mentally and physically disabled in Sagamihara town, about 25 miles (40 km) southwest of Tokyo.
“This is a very heart-wrenching and shocking incident in which many innocent people became victims,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular news conference in Tokyo. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later told a gathering in Tokyo: “The lives of many innocent people were taken away and I am greatly shocked. We will make every effort to discover the facts and prevent a reoccurance.” The suspect was a 26-year-old former employee of the facility who gave himself up to police. The man, Satoshi Uematsu, said in letters he wrote in February that he could “obliterate 470 disabled people”, Kyodo news agency reported. He said he would kill 260 severely disabled people at two areas in the facility during a night shift, and would not hurt employees.
“My goal is a world in which the severely disabled can be euthanized, with their guardians’ consent, if they are unable to live at home and be active in society,” Uematsu wrote in the two letters given to the speaker of the lower house of parliament, Kyodo reported.
Uematsu was committed to hospital after he expressed a “willingness to kill severely disabled people”, an official in Sagamihara told Reuters. He was freed on March 2 after a doctor deemed he had improved, the official said. Uematsu lived near the facility, and a neighbour described him as a polite, young man who always greeted him with a smile.
“It would be easier to understand if there had been a warning but there were no signs,” said Akihiro Hasegawa, 73. “We didn’t know the darkness of his heart.” The suspect apparently began changing about five months ago, said Yuji Kuroiwa, the governor of Kanagawa prefecture, where the facility is located.
“You could say there were warning signs, but it’s difficult to say if this could have been prevented,” he told reporters. “This was not an impulsive crime … He went in the dark of the night, opened one door at a time, and stabbed sleeping people one by one,” Kuroiwa said. “I just can’t believe the cruelty of this crime. We need to prevent this from ever happening again.” Staff at the facility called police at 2.30 am local time (1730 GMT Monday) with reports of a man armed with a knife on the grounds, media reports said. The man wore a black T-shirt and trousers, the reports said.
In February, Uematsu tried to hand deliver a letter to Parliament’s lower house speaker that revealed his dark turmoil. It demanded that all disabled people be put to death through “a world that allows for mercy killing,” Kyodo news agency and TBS TV reported. The Parliament office also confirmed the letter. Uematsu boasted in the letter that he had the ability to kill 470 disabled people in what he called was “a revolution,” and outlined an attack on two facilities, after which he said he will turn himself in.
He also asked he be judged innocent on grounds of insanity, be given 500 million yen ($5 million) in aid and plastic surgery so he could lead a normal life afterward. “My reasoning is that I may be able to revitalize the world economy and I thought it may be possible to prevent World War III,” the letter says.
The letter was delivered before Uematsu’s last day of work at the facility, but it was unclear whether the letter played a role in his firing, or even if his superiors had known about it. The letter included Uematsu’s name, address and telephone number, and reports of his threats were relayed to local police where Uematsu lived, Kyodo said.
Following are some of the worst mass killings in Japan:
■ May 1938, rural Okayama A 21-year-old man, Mutsuo Toi, goes on a killing spree, using a shotgun, Japanese sword, and an axe. He kills 30 people, including his grandmother, before killing himself.
■ March 1995, Tokyo metro Members of the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo release sarin gas in the Tokyo subway system, killing 13 people and sickening thousands of commuters in Japan’s most notorious attack.
■ September 1999, Shimonoseki Station A 35-year-old man, Yasuaki Uwabe, drives a car into the main train station in the southwestern city of Shimonoseki and then randomly stabs passers-by, killing five people and wounding 10.
■ June 2001, Osaka school A mentally disturbed man, Mamoru Takuma, armed with a kitchen knife goes on a stabbing spree at Ikeda Elementary School in the posh suburbs of Osaka, killing eight youngsters.
■ June 2008, Tokyo shoppers On the anniversary of the Osaka school attack, disgruntled auto worker Tomohiro Kato ploughs a truck into a crowd of shoppers in Tokyo’s bustling Akihabara district before jumping out and stabbing people, leaving seven dead and 10 wounded. After that rampage, Japan banned possession of double-edged knives with blades longer than 5.5 centimetres (about two inches).
■ October 2008, Osaka arson An arsonist, Kazuhiro Ogawa, 46, kills 16 people in a fire at an all-night video shop which offered adult films in small rooms in Osaka.
■ March 2015, Awaji Island Five people are stabbed to death at a family home in rural Japan by “social misfit” Tatsuhiko Hirano, 40, who lived nearby.
■ June 2016, northern Japan A 33-year-old man, Nobuyuki Matsuhashi, who had been treated for mental illness, stabs a woman to death and wounds three others in an attack at a shopping mall on Hokkaido.
■ Attacks on the vulnerable In February 2016, a former nursing home worker is arrested for allegedly throwing up to three elderly residents to their deaths from balconies. There have also been cases of family members killing ailing and ageing spouses or parents suffering from dementia in Japan’s rapidly ageing society.