Knife Attacker Wanted to Rid Japan of the Disabled
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SAGAMIHARA, Japan — A mass stabbing at a center for people with disabilities outside Tokyo on Tuesday shocked Japan, where violent crimes are extremely rare.
A former employee who had expressed strong views about euthanizing disabled people returned to the facility with a bag of knives at around 2 a.m., methodically slitting the throats of patients as they slept.
When he left the building 30 minutes later, 19 people were dead in the worst mass killing in Japan since World War II. The dead ranged in age from 19 to 70. Twenty-six people were wounded, 13 of them critically.
The suspect, Satoshi Uematsu, 26, who had sent a letter to a politician five months ago outlining his plan, calmly turned himself in at a nearby police station a half-hour after the attacks. As he confessed, he told the authorities, “All the handicapped should disappear.”
He was charged with attempted murder. Additional charges were expected.
Many pieces of the puzzle were still missing late Tuesday as the police cordoned off the center, Tsukui Yamayuri-en, and blocked access to witnesses and victims’ relatives.
But the details that emerged sketched a portrait of a deeply disturbed young man with a grudge against his employer and violent ideas about ridding the world of disabled people.
Mr. Uematsu had tried to warn the authorities of his plans in February, when he sent a letter to the speaker of the lower house of Parliament. He wrote that he would conduct an attack “during night shift hours when fewer workers are there” and that he would “tie workers with bands so that they cannot move and communicate with outside people.”
In the letter, he named the facility he attacked on Tuesday morning, as well as another center whose location officials declined to reveal.
Guns are strictly regulated in Japan, and few civilians own them. Until now, the biggest mass killing here in the postwar period was a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995, which killed 13.
“I have no words to express my feelings,” said Yuji Kuroiwa, the governor of Kanagawa Prefecture, where the assault took place. “It is an unforgivable crime.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in a statement, offered his “heartfelt condolences” and promised that “the government will make every effort” to determine what happened.
Mr. Uematsu had worked for four years as a caregiver at the center, a residential facility in the Tanzawa Mountains about 40 miles west of Tokyo. The center has 149 long-term residents with mental and physical illnesses.
It was unclear when Mr. Uematsu developed his ideas about disabled people, but there were several disturbing episodes in February.
A Twitter account that appeared to belong to Mr. Uematsu had followed several right-wing accounts. After a break of three and a half months, he resumed making posts. He said that Japan was being destroyed by AIDS and radiation poisoning, and he discussed the possibility of leaving his job and being arrested.
According to NHK, the national public broadcaster, Mr. Uematsu delivered a letter to the residence of the speaker of the lower house of Parliament in Tokyo on Feb. 15, threatening to kill hundreds of disabled people “for the sake of Japan” and urging legal changes that would allow the severely disabled to be euthanized.
“My aim is a world where people with multiple disabilities who have extreme difficulty living at home or being active in society can be euthanized with the consent of their guardians,” the letter said, according to the report.
The Tokyo police notified their counterparts in the Sagamihara area about the letter that same day, NHK said.
The director of the center, Katsuhiko Yoneyama, said that when he learned about the letter he had a talk with Mr. Uematsu.
“I told him that this place is for the welfare and happiness of the disabled,” Mr. Yoneyama said in remarks outside the center on Tuesday afternoon. He said that he told Mr. Uematsu, “You are not an appropriate person to work here,” and Mr. Uematsu voluntarily agreed to quit.
The next day, the local authorities committed Mr. Uematsu to a psychiatric hospital.
After marijuana was detected in his urine, two doctors there issued a diagnosis of marijuana-induced psychosis and a delusional disorder. But on March 2, NHK reported, the symptoms disappeared, and doctors concluded that he was not a danger to others.
Mr. Uematsu lived not far from the center in a large, cream-colored concrete house on a hill. He had lived with his parents until they moved away about five years ago, neighbors said. A pile of trash inside the home was visible through one window, and a garden shed next to the house was half open.
Neighbors described him as quiet and gentle.
“I never imagined he was the kind of guy who would commit such a crime,” said Mitsuo Kishi, 76.
Akihiro Hasegawa, 73, who lives next door, said Mr. Uematsu was friendly. Mr. Hasegawa recently saw him shirtless outside the house, taking in the sun, and observed tattoos on his chest and back. Tattoos are uncommon in Japan and are often perceived as a sign of belonging to a gang.
Mr. Hasegawa noted one other idiosyncrasy: Mr. Uematsu occasionally pulled into his driveway and rammed the front of his car into a cement wall.
Mr. Uematsu had studied to be a teacher. In 2011, he was a student teacher for third graders at Chigira Elementary School, which he attended as a child.
Akiyo Numasawa, the vice principal of the public school, said that Mr. Uematsu was “very gentle” and that there were no signs of mental illness or trouble.
But local news reports on Tuesday said that Mr. Uematsu had told friends that he planned to kill as many as 600 disabled people by October and that he would start with the center where he had worked.
At 1:37 a.m., surveillance cameras at a house near the facility captured images of a black car arriving at high speed, NHK reported. A man, in a short-sleeve shirt, trousers and a baseball hat, emerged from the driver’s seat and opened his trunk to take out a few large bags.
According to NTV, a private broadcaster, a police investigator told reporters that during the attacks early Tuesday, staff members tried to stop Mr. Uematsu, but he tied them up with plastic bindings.
A little after 2:50 a.m., he ran back to the car and drove away.
That report also quoted the police as saying that Mr. Uematsu had told them, “Without a doubt, I stabbed them with knives.” He was also said to have told the police that “I held some grudges after being forced to resign.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the bodies of the dead were still inside the center, where the police were investigating.
Outside the police station in Sagamihara, a popular summer destination for hikers and campers, a black car sat in the parking lot, covered in a blue tarp. The local news media had reported that it was the car Mr. Uematsu drove to the station. Broadcast video showed a bloody steering wheel and plastic ties scattered on a seat.
The back bumper was broken and bore an English-language sticker that read: “I’m not driving too slow. You’re speeding.”
Officers outside the station would not confirm that it was Mr. Uematsu’s car.
After the attack and before he drove to the police station, Mr. Uematsu appeared to have posted again on Twitter. The post, which included a photograph of himself in a suit and red tie, read, “May the world be peaceful,” and, in English, “Beautiful Japan!”