NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – The civilian employee of a U.S. military base in Okinawa Prefecture who was arrested Thursday over the death of a Japanese woman has admitted raping her before strangling and stabbing her to death and transporting her body in a suitcase, investigative sources said Saturday.
Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, a 32-year-old former U.S. Marine employed by Kadena Air Base, was arrested on suspicion of dumping the woman’s body, a procedural step common in suspected murder cases.
The victim was identified as Rina Shimabukuro, a 20-year-old office worker from the city of Uruma.
She had gone missing on April 28, when she went out for a walk.
Investigative sources said Shinzato was not acquainted with Shimabukuro, but assaulted her after he drove around for two or three hours looking for a potential rape victim. He admitted to forcing Shimabukuro into his car after hitting her with a club.
Media reports have quoted investigators as saying blood stains were found in the car belonging Shinzato, who lived in the town of Yonabaru with his wife and child. Footage of the suspect buying salt at a convenience store soon after the victim’s disappearance and sprinkling it over his car was captured by the store’s surveillance camera, the Asahi Shimbun reported, citing investigative sources.
Shinzato’s mother expressed disbelief at the news of her son’s arrest in an interview with NHK in New York, where the suspect is originally from. According to NHK, the mother said the suspect was in the U.S. military from 2007 until 2014, but she has lost contact with him since he left the military.
“I’m sorry,” the mother said on camera, adding, “I don’t believe that he killed the girl.”
The incident in Okinawa, where strong opposition remains to the heavy presence of U.S. military bases there, came just days ahead of President Barack Obama’s trip to Japan to attend the Group of Seven summit and his visit to Hiroshima.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters Saturday that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will take up the matter in his talks with Obama, scheduled to be held on the sidelines of the summit. Informed sources also said Abe will ask Obama to strengthen discipline among U.S. servicemen and workers at U.S. bases in their upcoming talks.
Abe will ask Obama to take thorough measures to prevent any recurrence of such incidents, the sources said.
Also on Saturday, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani lodged a protest with the commander of U.S. military forces in Okinawa over Shinzato’s arrest.
In Saturday’s meeting with Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, Nakatani demanded that the U.S. military in Okinawa enhance discipline and take measures to prevent such incidents from recurring.
“This is outrageous and unforgivable,” Nakatani said during the meeting at a Defense Ministry office in Okinawa. Nicholson said, “Our heartfelt prayers and condolences are offered to the family.”
Nakatani lodged a similar protest when he summoned Lt. Gen. John Dolan, commander of U.S. forces in Japan, to Tokyo on Thursday. Both he and Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga attended Shimabukuro’s funeral on Saturday.
Efforts by government officials to control damage to U.S.-Japan relations ahead of Obama’s visit did not stop angry residents from protesting in front of Kadena Air Base on Friday.
About 250 people attended an anti-base rally, shouting slogans such as “Get out of Okinawa” and “We don’t accept U.S. bases.”
“Many people in the prefecture were worried and wished that she would come home safely,” said Shusei Arakawa, 79, one of the organizers.
Shinzato, 32, told police he strangled and stabbed the woman as well as sexually assaulted her, the sources said.
Police found Shimabukuro’s body on Thursday based on a statement Shinzato made the same day. An autopsy performed Friday failed to find the cause of the death because the body had been reduced to a near skeleton.
The woman disappeared after contacting her boyfriend via the free messaging app Line at around 8 p.m. on April 28, saying she was going for a walk.
Before arresting Shinzato, the police had been questioning him on a voluntary basis since Monday after they identified his car in security camera footage in the area from where GPS data from the woman’s smartphone was last sent.