OSAKA — Shock and disbelief gripped the city of Ikeda, an affluent Osaka suburb, Friday following the murder of eight elementary school children as parents, teachers and neighbors struggled to find an explanation for why it happened.

Parents of children at the Ikeda Elementary School rushed to the school Friday afternoon to see if their kids were OK.

“My child is inside and reportedly hurt,” a pale-faced woman told reporters as she entered the school. One parent after another crossed the off-limits tape set up police at the gate.

They were taken to the gymnasium to listen to briefings from school officials about how a knife-wielding man stormed into the school and assaulted the kids, killing eight and leaving several others wounded.

While rescuers took the injured children on stretchers to ambulances, teachers gathered the unhurt kids in the schoolyard and told them to stay calm. Around noon, the children left school, escorted by their parents.

A 59-year-old male employee of a supermarket store in front of the school recalled how the schoolchildren entered his shop crying for help.

“Seven or eight kids, crying, escaped into the shop,” the employee said. “The back of one of the boys was all red with blood, and he collapsed to the floor just in front of the cash register. His lips were totally pale.”

Neighboring residents expressed their terror over what happened and anger toward 37-year-old suspect Mamoru Takuma, calling for tighter security at schools.

“Now I understand the horror that American parents whose schools have been attacked must have felt. Japan’s school yards are no longer safe,” said 37-year-old Reiko Umezawa, an Ikeda resident who has a child in a local junior high school.

“Like U.S. schools, we may have to bring in full-time security guards and send visitors through metal detectors. I get so depressed when I think of that.”

Kazutoshi Obama, 64, who lives just a few minutes walk from the school, said, “We Japanese have been too complacent. We think that we’re a safe country. How many times do things like this have to happen before parents, school authorities and the police realize they have to be more vigilant?”

Other residents reacted with anger to news that the suspect had been arrested previously in March 1999 after attempting to poison his coworkers. Police said he had been placed in a psychiatric ward after the incident, only to be released later.

“That’s ridiculous. Who made such a decision? And why? He should have been locked away,” said one woman, who was crying and would not give her name.

An Osaka police official said Takuma, upon his arrest after allegedly stabbing the children, said he would like to be given the death penalty. Many residents felt he should be hanged but expressed doubt that it would happen.

“If he is judged to be insane, under Japanese law it would be very difficult to hand down the death penalty,” said Obama. “But he should definitely never get out of prison.”

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