A knife-wielding man stormed into an elementary school Friday morning in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, and fatally stabbed eight children and wounded 15 others before he was subdued, police said.

Mamoru Takuma, a 37-year-old psychiatric outpatient from Ikeda, ran amok inside Osaka Kyoiku University Ikeda Elementary School at around 10:15 a.m., stabbing 21 first- and second-graders and two teachers.

The eight dead — seven girls and one boy — were identified as Yuka Kiso, Kana Tsukamoto, Yuki Hongo, Ayano Moriwaki, Mayuko Isaka, Maki Sakai, Rena Yamashita — all second-graders — and Takahiro Totsuka, age 6. It is the second-largest murder incident of the past decade, eclipsed only by the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that claimed 12 lives.

Pupils Yuya Yamazaki and Yuta Katagi, as well as Yoshiaki Tanabe, 28, a teacher, suffered severe wounds and were at one stage in critical condition. Other students and teachers received less severe injuries, police said, adding that all were taken to hospitals for treatment in the city and its vicinity.

Although the motive behind the attack was not immediately known, Takuma was quoted by police as saying, “I’m sick of life. I’ve attempted to kill myself many times but failed. I want to be hanged.”

After driving to the school, Takuma barged into the building with a 15-cm knife from a terrace facing the grounds of the school, which is located in a residential area some 1.5 km northeast of Ikeda Station on the Hankyu Takarazuka Line. The attack occurred during a break between the day’s second and third classes, according to school officials.

According to police, he entered a second-grade classroom via the schoolyard and began stabbing the pupils without uttering a word.

As the pupils fled into the corridor, Takuma chased them and then entered another second-grade classroom, where he continued stabbing others, police said.

Takuma was subdued by a male teacher and a vice principal, and arrested at around 10:25 a.m., police said.

More than 10 ambulances rushed to the school after the incident, transferring the injured to Mcsyl Tatsumi Clinic & Hospital and Ikeda Municipal Hospital, both in Ikeda; Osaka University Hospital Trauma and Acute Critical Care Center and Osaka Prefecture Senri Critical Care Medical Center, both in Suita; and Kyoritsu Hospital and Seiai Hospital in Kawanishi, Hyogo Prefecture.

Those who escaped the attack were evacuated to the schoolyard, where they sat on the ground in lines.

One of the first-graders who escaped told reporters that a man with a knife ran into her classroom and stabbed three boys standing in front of the blackboard.

“I got scared and ran out of the classroom,” she said.

The suspect was hospitalized with self-inflicted wounds, but he was discharged shortly after 3 p.m. and taken to Ikeda Police Station for questioning.

Although Takuma was at first making incoherent responses during questioning, he reportedly told police at one point that he had taken 10 times more than a normal dose of a tranquilizer earlier in the morning.

But later Friday, Takuma denied his involvement in the killings, claiming he did not visit the school, police said.

“I just went to Ikeda Station, not the school,” police quoted him as saying.

Police sources said Takuma, a former janitor at an elementary school in Itami, Hyogo Prefecture, was arrested in March 1999 on suspicion of injuring four teachers and clerical staff by lacing their tea with a tranquilizer. Takuma was placed in a hospital psychiatric ward after the incident, the sources said.

Takuma was a member of the Self-Defense Forces in the early 1980s, and worked as a maintenance man at the Komaki base in Aichi Prefecture, according to the Defense Agency.

Takuma’s former landlady in Minoo, Osaka Prefecture, expressed deep shock upon hearing the news.

“He often had trouble with other tenants of my apartment complex because he did washing late at night or very early in the morning. The news (on Friday) almost gave me a heart attack.”

He left the housing facility in October because of frequent trouble with his neighbors, the landlady said.

The school, established in April 1951, has about 690 students. It is one of three elementary schools affiliated with state-run Osaka Kyoiku University.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters at his official residence, “I am worried about the children. This is a terrible incident.”

The education ministry set up an emergency headquarters headed by Fumio Kishida, senior vice education minister, to deal with the incident and dispatched a ministry official to Osaka to gather information about the attack.

Education chief Atsuko Toyama said, “Such an incident should never have happened. Schools should be places that provide safety and trust. It is extremely regrettable.”

Later on Friday, she issued a statement urging those who are responsible for securing safety at schools to step up their efforts to prevent a similar incident from happening.

Toyama also called on adults in local communities to cooperate with each other to make sure children can lead safe lives.

Education experts have been anguishing over several shocking juvenile crimes in recent years, including schoolyard violence.

Tetsuo Shimomura, a professor of school management at Waseda University in Tokyo, said schools should keep their gates closed during school hours and check visitors before allowing them entry.

“It is important to make schools open to local communities, but ensuring the safety of children is imperative,” he said. “School officials should keep an eye on traffic to prevent the entrance of suspicious people when gates are open.”

Some experts of psychiatric medicine voiced concerns that the incident may convince the public that psychiatric patients need to be confined in institutions.

Akira Fukushima, a professor emeritus of criminal psychology at Sophia University in Tokyo, said that the incident should not lead to stopping the current trend in psychiatric treatment in which more and more patients are treated in open wards.

“The new way of treatment (in open wards) has worked well in general,” Fukushima said.

“The only possible way to reduce such incidents would be individual psychiatrists’ making efforts to improve their ability and skills to treat patients so that they can better control their symptoms.

Attack is just the latest

The killing of eight children Friday at an elementary school in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, is just the latest in a recent series of violent acts against children by people who had simply walked onto school premises.

After the killings, the education ministry urgently issued instructions that schools across the nation tighten their security and maintain routine communication with police to prevent such incidents.

In December 1999, a second-grade pupil at the municipal Hino Elementary School in Kyoto was stabbed to death by a knife-wielding youth while he was playing in the playground. A note left at the crime scene claimed that the killer “held a grudge against Hino school.”

Three months later, Kyoto police identified a 21-year-old man as a suspect, but he killed himself by jumping off an apartment building shortly before he was to be questioned by police.

In 1988, a man carrying an ax and a sickle broke into a junior high school in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, attacking and injuring eight students in classrooms. The man, who later claimed to have been bullied by students at the school, was given a suspended prison term.

Fights between students also appear to be becoming increasingly violent.

In the city of Higashi Osaka, 31 boys and girls from two city-run junior high schools stormed into another junior high last June, shattering classroom windows and injuring a teacher who tried to stop them.

The incident was reportedly triggered after one of the girls from the school that was the target of the attack insulted one of the girls who led the raid, police said.

In September 1998, eight boys carrying bamboo swords and sticks attacked Kaizuka Junior High School in Chiba, assaulting and injuring a male student.

“We cannot put schools under 24-hour surveillance, but we have to do something,” said an official at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

The incidents come at a time when education authorities are trying to make schools more open to local residents as venues for exchanges at the community level. At many schools, however, this policy means it is becoming increasingly difficult to verify the identity of every person who enters the premises.

Following Friday’s incident in Ikeda, the ministry dispatched instructions to prefectural education boards to determine whether schools within their jurisdictions regularly identify people from outside and whether they maintain routine links with police.

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