UTSUNOMIYA, Tochigi Pref. – A 39-year-old man was arrested Sunday night for allegedly abducting two young brothers who were staying at his home in Oyama, Tochigi Prefecture.
The boys are still missing.
Akihiro Shimoyama is suspected of abducting Kazuto Kobayashi, 4, and Hayato Kobayashi, 3, the sons of 40-year-old Yasunori Kobayashi, police said.
The Kobayashis had been staying at Shimoyama’s house since late June, according to police. Shimoyama and Kobayashi, who are both divorced fathers with two children apiece, went to the same junior high school.
Investigative sources said Monday there were reports that the missing boys had been physically abused by Shimoyama in the past.
A police search for the boys — an operation that also involved helicopters — had not turned up any clues as of Monday evening.
The two boys were last seen by their father around noon Saturday, when they returned home from a noodle-eating event at a nearby church, police said. The boys left the building afterward, and Kobayashi filed a missing persons’ report with police just past midnight Saturday after they did not return home.
Shimoyama, who identified himself as a company employee, also was unaccounted for briefly Saturday but returned home at around 1:30 a.m. Sunday.
During voluntary questioning by police, Shimoyama was quoted as saying he took the boys to a park around 5 km away from his home and dropped them off there. Investigators also quoted Shimoyama as saying he was unhappy about living with the boys.
It was not immediately clear why these living arrangements continued, even though the suspect was said to feel this way.
Following his arrest, Shimoyama changed his story and retracted what he said during his voluntary questioning, according to investigators.
Sources close to the investigation said that the manager of a convenience store near Shimoyama’s apartment saw the two boys with bruises on their faces and abdomens on July 8 and alerted police, saying he feared child abuse. The local child consultation center was notified and took the children into its care.
The following day, however, their father took them back, claiming Shimoyama may have been responsible for the abuse. The boys were temporarily taken to their grandmother’s house, though they soon returned to Shimoyama’s apartment.
Neighbors were quoted as saying Shimoyama often beat his 11-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son. He recently told an acquaintance that he was unhappy that the Kobayashis had come to stay with him, saying the two boys messed up the apartment, according to police.
On Monday, officials at the local child consultation center acknowledged that, in the end, their judgment in this case had proved to be wrong.
According to center director Katsuji Wakabayashi, the center had only kept in regular contact with the boys’ grandmother because their father could not be reached via telephone. Center staff and the grandmother concluded that while Shimoyama was probably abusing the boys, their father could act as a deterrent because he was living with them, he said.