KOBE — Police officials, detectives and private citizens visited on Friday the Asahi Shimbun’s Hanshin Bureau in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, to lay flowers and offer prayers for a reporter who was gunned down there 15 years ago by an unknown assailant.

After offering a prayer at an altar set up in the bureau for Tomohiro Kojiri, Hyogo Prefectural Police Chief Kaoru Okada said he wished the slain reporter could guide police from heaven to help them solve the crime.

“Although the statute of limitations for the 1987 murder ran out at midnight Thursday, we will continue investigating the case,” Okada said.

Police plan to investigate the case at least until March, when the statute of limitations expires on a separate attack involving the newspaper’s Shizuoka bureau. An unexploded bomb attached to a timing device was found in that bureau’s parking lot in March 1988.

On May 3, 1987, a suspected rightwing extremist armed with a shotgun entered the newspaper’s Hanshin bureau and fatally shot Kojiri, 29. Reporter Hyoe Inukai, now 57, was seriously wounded in the attack.

Okada said: “I learned while I was a student that the statute of limitations system goes against justice at the fundamental level of (the criminal justice system). The crime, which was against humanity and freedom of speech, is inexcusable.”

Seishi Yamashita, a 63-year-old former investigator who was once the head of the investigative team, said: “I apologized to Mr. Kojiri in front of his portrait (at the altar) for failing to arrest the killer. I will bear responsibility for that failure for the rest of my life.”

People living near the bureau visited the altar, including Chieko Takayama, 73, who said she has been too afraid to come near the office since the murder.

“But when I heard the statute of limitations ran out today, I made up my mind to visit here to pray for the reporter so that I will not forget the crime,” she said. “I think citizens should tell younger generations what happened here.”

Rie Kinoshita, a 17-year-student hoping to become a newspaper reporter, said her career plan has not been affected by the slaying.

“The crime was so horrible, but it has brought about more anger than fear for me,” she said. “I told the portrait of Mr. Kojiri of my determination to become a reporter.”

In Kawajiri, Hiroshima Prefecture, Kojiri’s relatives and newspaper representatives held a memorial service Friday on the 15th anniversary of his death.

His widow, Yuko, 42, their daughter, Miki, 17, his father, Nobukatsu, 74, and his mother, Miyoko, 71, visited his grave beforehand.

The father told reporters tearfully, “I want the criminal to come tell me why my son was targeted.”

Asahi Shimbun President Shinichi Hakoshima, who also visited the grave before the gathering, said the expiration of the statute of limitations renewed his indignation against the crime.

“In order that Kojiri’s death as a reporter was not in vain, we will never give in to threats.”

Hyogo police investigators believe a rightist group, reportedly upset with the newspaper’s editorials, was responsible for the shooting.

A group calling itself Sekihotai (the squad for reprisals against the reds) claimed responsibility. Apparently an ultranationalist organization, it said the newspaper is “anti-Japanese” and promised to “execute all Asahi Shimbun employees.”

The attack was widely viewed as a terrorist act aimed at suppressing the freedom of the press. The Asahi Shimbun’s publisher was also targeted, apparently by the same group, in later attacks, including an incident in which someone shot up a TV set at the empty dormitory of the paper’s Nagoya bureau in September 1987. The paper, widely viewed as a liberal daily, has been the target of sporadic attacks by rightwing extremists.

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