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Teachers, others who knew suspect in grisly murder wonder about unheeded warning signs

Sasebo searches for missed signals


The 16-year-old high schooler arrested Sunday for allegedly killing a classmate in Nagasaki Prefecture says she cut up the body of her victim because she was “interested in trying dissection on a human after dissecting a cat and reading medical books,” a police source said.

Much as her remark may cause horror, in hindsight there appear to have been warning signs in the girl’s life, and her teachers and others who knew her are reflecting hard about how they should have reacted.

The girl allegedly killed her 15-year-old classmate at a condominium where she was living by herself in Sasebo, a port city with a population of around 255,000.

“I’ve never seen such a terrible scene,” said an investigator with the Nagasaki Prefectural Police. “I just couldn’t bear to look at it.”

The murder appears to have been premeditated, with the suspect telling investigators she bought hammers and a saw beforehand.

The police suspect the girl struck her classmate in the back of the head several times before strangling her with a rope. The body was found on her bed with the head and left hand severed and her abdomen cut wide open.

Her smartphone was later found on the premises but outside the condo — indicating she may have tried to conceal the evidence, the police said.

Investigators have so far been unable to find any indication of trouble between the girl and her classmate, and are now probing the suspect’s upbringing in an attempt to find a motive for the crime.

The girl was raised in a wealthy family in the city, and her mother was keen to get the best education for her, investigators and people familiar with the family said. She performed well academically and athletically at school. One childhood friend called her “cheerful and lively,” while another said she “had a sense of responsibility and was caring.”

She was not, however, trouble-free. The first known problem arose in her sixth year of elementary school, when, city officials say, she laced the lunches of two classmates with bleach and detergent on five separate occasions. A source close to one of victim said the girl was angry about remarks related to her studies.

The girl’s mother apologized and promised to discipline her daughter. She later got counseling and the school reported the problem to the municipal government, sources familiar with the situation said.

However, a member of the city’s education board said he believes no official report was filed about the incident.

A former teacher at the elementary school said the city, school and her parents may not have taken the right action.

“We just sought a closure of the problem without seriously facing the dark side of her mind,” the teacher said. “I feel sorry because we could’ve prevented the (killing) if we had acted in the right way.”

According to the police, the teen had dissected a cat before. A close friend of the family recalled the girl telling him that she was interested in dissection and had dismembered a frog in the sixth grade.

Her circumstances changed drastically last fall in her third year of junior high school. Her mom, who was very close to her, died of cancer and spent her last two months in bed.

In April, the girl entered senior high school and started living alone in the condominium. Her father then quickly remarried in May.

After that, she reportedly injured her father seriously with a metal bat, although police were not told about it.

“Evidently it was a case of attempted murder,” an official at the prefectural police said. “If we had known about it, the incident this time wouldn’t have happened,” he said.

After formally entering senior high school in April, the girl showed up just three times — including the day of the entrance ceremony. A former homeroom teacher from junior high visited her at home each week, but the attempt to reach out apparently had no effect.

Hirokazu Hasegawa, a clinical psychologist familiar with youth problems, said, “The mother’s death and the father’s remarriage immediately afterward are significant events for any child.”

“After living separately (from her father), she was in a world of her own. That may have allowed her to further develop her curiosity in dissections,” he said.

Misako Noguchi, an official of Infinity, a Nagasaki-based nonprofit group that supports parents, said she had had contact with the girl’s mother before.

The mother “had a good grasp of her daughter’s character and struggled with raising her but then she fell sick, and at the end of the day, no one else could offer a helping hand,” Noguchi said.

“But there are also other children with similar traits,” she said. “It’s important that people around them take note of any signs children give.”