A sixth-grade girl died Tuesday after a female classmate stabbed her in the neck with a hobby knife in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, police said.
Nagasaki Prefectural Police said the assault took place around 12:20 p.m. in a classroom in the municipally run Okubo Elementary School.
Police in Sasebo said the victim suffered wounds to the neck and arms.
They identified the victim as Satomi Mitarai, 12, who was the daughter of Kyoji Mitarai, 45, the Sasebo bureau chief of the Mainichi Shimbun.
The attacker, identified only as being 11, was taken into police custody. She is being questioned on a voluntary basis.
Investigators said the suspect has admitted attacking Mitarai. She was quoted as making a teary confession to police that she had done “a bad thing.”
According to investigations, the girl called Mitarai out from their classroom to another room on the same third floor of the school during the lunch break.
Their homeroom teacher noticed that the two girls were missing around 12:35, when all the children had sat down to lunch.
Just as the class began to worry about their whereabouts, the attacker walked into her classroom covered in blood. She said the blood was not hers.
After questioning the girl, the teacher found Mitarai around 12:45 p.m. and asked staff to call an ambulance. Mitarai was confirmed dead when it arrived, the police said.
School officials canceled all afternoon classes and sent pupils in the first to fifth grades home in groups. All sixth-graders were told to remain and were questioned about the incident.
Mitarai was the youngest of three children and the family’s only daughter, according Mainichi officials.
Her mother died of cancer in September 2001, and she was living on the third floor of the building housing the bureau with her father and 14-year-old brother. The eldest son, a 20-year-old university student, lives away from home, they added.
She enrolled in Okubo Elementary School in April 2002 after her father’s job brought them to the city.
Mitarai’s father told a news conference in the evening that he had no idea why such an incident should have happened. He said his daughter was “like air” to him.
“I cannot imagine life without her around me,” he said. “But the unimaginable has happened, and I don’t know what to say.”
He said school officials had called him to say that his daughter had been injured. He rushed over from the bureau, which is nearby, and found his daughter lying still on the classroom floor.
He said he had never heard about any problems at school from his daughter.
“After losing my wife two years ago, I had been raising (Satomi) with affection, while at the same time knowing that I should not spoil her,” he said.
He said he did not see his daughter off to school that morning because he was busy doing laundry.
When asked what he wanted to tell her killer, he said, “She is (around) the same age (as my daughter), and so I hope that she clearly explains what happened when she calms down.”
The 51-year-old father of one of Mitarai’s classmates said he was shocked by the news, which he heard from his wife over the phone.
He said he rushed to the school for more information. Because the attacker was not identified, he said he feared that his daughter might have been the culprit.
He said Mitarai was a bright and cheerful girl.
“While I don’t know who the attacker is, she is still a child, and I worry about her future,” he said.
By law, children under 14 years of age cannot be held criminally responsible for their actions.
Police will notify the local child welfare office of the girl’s actions. The office will then decide whether to send the case to a family court or place her in a support facility.
If the case is sent to the family court, the court can decide to place the offender in a juvenile classification home for monitoring and protection. Children 13 or younger can be kept there for a maximum of four weeks while authorities investigate the case, including checks on the accused’s family background. The child can also be made to submit to psychiatric tests.
If the family court determines there was criminal activity, it will decide on a correctional program for the child.
Increasing violence in schools and juvenile crime has been a mounting concern in recent years.
Last July, a 12-year-old boy was accused of kidnapping, molesting and murdering a 4-year-old in Nagasaki Prefecture. In the same month, a 14-year-old boy was arrested for beating a 13-year-old classmate to death in Okinawa Prefecture.
In Tokyo, education minister Takeo Kawamura expressed shock.
“I myself was left speechless,” he told reporters.
Schools have stepped up efforts to enhance security after a June 2001 stabbing spree at an elementary school in Osaka Prefecture left eight children dead. But many of these precautions are targeted at dealing with intruders, not those within the school.