YOKOHAMA – Police have located the mother of a boy whose skeletal remains were found last week in a trash-filled apartment in Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture, sources familiar with the investigation said Tuesday.
It is suspected that 5-year-old Riku Saito starved to death in early 2007. Police on Saturday arrested his father, Yukihiro Saito, 36, and launched a search for the boy’s mother. They have now interviewed her.
They said they plan to investigate whether the woman, who is currently working in the Tokyo area, knew about Riku’s neglect at the hands of his father.
The boy’s mother is believed to have left the household in 2005. His father allegedly told investigators that he subsequently lost interest in raising the toddler.
Police quoted Yukihiro as saying that he began dating another woman and then “gave all his attention to her, instead of Riku.” He may even have neglected to return to the apartment for days at a time to take care of the boy.
Yukihiro allegedly told police that he would take the toddler a “bento” boxed meal five times a week, but said the visits became infrequent.
Police believe Yukihiro’s actions led to his son’s death from hunger and dehydration in January 2007, having essentially starved him from October the previous year.
Atsugi police were alerted to the case after a local child welfare center contacted them in May, saying a boy registered at a local address had not reported to junior high school as expected. The boy’s body was found on Friday.
Investigators said Yukihiro had admitted to the charge, adding that when the boy died he merely closed the apartment and left.
Kanagawa Prefecture Governor Yuji Kuroiwa will convene an independent inquiry to investigate whether the Atsugi Board of Education and the child welfare center took appropriate measures in the case.
Kuroiwa told reporters on Monday that the inquiry will begin as soon as possible, adding that he would look into cases of other children who have been reported missing.
When police searched Saito’s apartment, they found the rooms filled with trash. Among the litter were scraps of bread and rice balls. The apartment windows had been sealed with duct tape.
Police removed the trash for examination, filling a pair of 2-ton trucks.
At the time of his arrest, Yukihiro was living in another apartment, but kept up rent payments on the old one — ¥60,000 a month — “to keep the body from being discovered,” police quoted him as saying.
The Atsugi Board of Education said inspectors had paid a visit to check on Riku at the apartment in March 2008, but had concluded the house was empty and struck the boy off the students’ directory.
The board conducted no follow-up, listing his whereabouts as unknown.