• Kyodo

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Hokkaido police searched for nearly a week for a missing 9-year-old girl before a tip around noon Sunday from a witness led them to a 26-year-old Sapporo man’s apartment, where they found her safe that evening.

The man was questioned and taken into custody but apparently has a mental illness and may not face criminal charges. The police said Monday they withheld his name and also declined to identify the girl, whose apartment is only some 350 meters away from his.

When officers entered the man’s apartment after a stakeout, they found the girl sitting at a table cutting paper for origami. She reportedly burst into tears and said she had been taped up earlier.

The girl disappeared on Jan. 27 soon after she left home to buy some stationery at around 3 p.m. The man allegedly took her to his apartment from a parking lot near the girl’s home at around 3:30 p.m. the same day.

The man, who lives alone, has denied abducting the girl and said they are not acquainted, the police said.

According to the police, the girl was seen several hundred meters from her home between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Jan. 27 by several people, including some who saw her walking with a man. This led to a composite sketch.

Since there was little in the way of witness reports putting the girl near any subway stations or getting into a car, officers focused their search on places within walking distance from the girl’s home.

The key tip came from a witness who reported seeing a suspicious man carrying girls’ comics. His description matched the sketch.

Information also poured in via the Internet, including that the girl was seen with a man wearing a jacket with a dragon embroidered on its back, and that a man was seen with the girl at a convenience store.

The police, who confirmed the information with footage from a surveillance camera near the man’s apartment that captured the two walking together, began a stakeout outside his apartment.

When the man came out of his apartment, the police questioned him about the girl. Although he denied having seen her, he did not try to prevent officers from entering the dwelling.

Although she had no visible injuries, police quoted the girl as saying she had been wrapped up with adhesive tape.

Police began a widespread search for the girl on Jan. 29, and assigned some 1,250 officers to the case.

The girl’s parents released a comment through Hokkaido police: “We could finally find our daughter thanks to everyone’s support. We are grateful for the efforts from the bottom of our heart.”

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