Japan is in a state of shock after a male assailant wielding two knives began a stabbing rampage that killed one 11-year-old school girl and a 39-year-old man, a Foreign Ministry official believed to be the father of the school girl. The attacker then took his own life.
The knife attack took place at 7:41 a.m. on Tuesday. The attacker, a man in his 50s, ran at a group of school students who were lining up to board a school bus headed to Caritas Gakuen, a private Catholic school in Kawasaki city in greater Tokyo. The perpetrator was local to the area.
The unprovoked attack wounded 19 and the incident is said to have lasted less than 20 seconds. Some children who suffered stab wounds fled to a nearby convenience store for safety while as many as 10 others fell on the ground at the scene of the attack. Police and emergency services arrived three minutes later and detained the suspect, who later died from a self-inflicted stabbing injury. Medical tents were set up to treat the wounded on site.
Some eyewitnesses say the man attacked from behind without saying a word, catching the children off guard. Other passersby say the man screamed “I’m going to kill you” during his rampage. A high school student who was in the convenience store at the time said she heard screams and cries from the children. She described seeing blood gushing out of children’s necks while a women helped staunch the bleeding with toilet paper and lent a mobile phone so the children could call their parents.
Police believe the man planned the attack and had bought the knives ahead of time. A rucksack belonging to the assailant left at scene contained the packaging for newly purchased knives. A police inquiry into his homelife revealed reclusive tendencies and that the man had trouble holding down a job.
With public pressure mounting to expose more about the circumstances that led to the tragic incident, Kawasaki city held a join press conference on Wednesday with the relatives of the perpetrator, explaining the man had been referred to the council’s mental health and wellbeing center eight times. His relatives say he was showing signs of becoming a “hikikomori” – a Japanese phenomenon where one withdraws from society and lives as a shut-in.
Kawasaki city reflected on the criticism that the incident could have been prevented if they had forcibly intervened. However, they stated firmly it was not within their power to force a troubled person to seek help and such a procedure would destroy trust building with professional services.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held an emergency press conference during bilateral talks with President Donald Trump, who happened to be in Japan on a four-day visit at the time of the incident. Abe told reporters, “I feel strong resentment about young children being affected. We must protect children’s safety in any way.” Trump also offered his condolences. He stated on behalf of the first lady and himself, “All Americans stand with the people of Japan and grieve for the victims and for their families.”
The school director held a private emergency briefing for parents where they discussed shortening the waiting time at the bus stop. In response to the incident the school closed its doors until May 31, while the principal pledged they will do whatever it takes to take care of the children’s emotional wounds hereafter.