• Kyodo

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A 26-year-old man arrested Sunday for allegedly confining an 11-year-old schoolgirl has admitted to kidnapping her, the Nara Prefectural Police said Monday.

“I forced her into my car,” the police quoted Masaru Ito as saying.

Ito, of Kashihara, Nara Prefecture, also allegedly said he saw the girl for the first time Saturday, the day he abducted her.

Ito was arrested when police spotted his vehicle in the city of Yamato Takada on Sunday night.

The girl, who disappeared Saturday afternoon in the neighboring city of Kashiba while shopping with her family, appeared unharmed but tired when she was found in the back seat of Ito’s vehicle, the police said. She was bare-footed and her hands were bound.

The girl did not return after telling her mother she was going to the toilet at around 1:50 p.m. Saturday in a secondhand store in Kashiba. They had arrived at the store with her sister about 20 minutes earlier, according to the police.

After her mother found one of the girl’s sandals in a restroom stall, her father alerted the police to her disappearance at around 3:10 p.m.

A shop employee had reported hearing a female scream sometime before 2 p.m., the police said, and another person saw a suspicious navy blue car leaving the parking area.

The police released a photo of her Sunday, seeking the public’s help.

They said they would conduct a thorough investigation into the motive and to establish the exact sequence of events following the kidnapping. They suspect Ito planned the abduction in advance.

The girl reportedly told the police she was kept in the car during the entire ordeal.

The entrance to the restroom is separate from the main entrance to the store, and is located at the end of the building, making it difficult to notice any suspicious behavior, the police said.

They credited the witness report of the suspicious blue vehicle leaving the parking lot as playing a key role in apprehending the suspect and freeing the victim.

The police ran a check on around 530 owners of navy blue wagons living in Kashiba and neighboring cities, leading them to Ito’s residence Saturday evening. They couldn’t find his vehicle parked anywhere nearby and the lights in his apartment were off, officers said.

They said footage from a security camera at a convenience store near the area where the girl disappeared also helped them track down Ito.

At around 9:15 p.m. Sunday, the police spotted a car resembling the one described by witnesses on a national highway in Gose, 10 km south of the area where the girl disappeared.

Ito was taken into custody when he stopped at a traffic light some 20 minutes after being spotted by the police. By that time, his car was being followed by several police cars.

The incident sparked concern among parents of children attending the same school as the victim. Most students were accompanied to school by family members on Monday morning.

“It made me think that any child can become a victim. It’s not just somebody else’s problem,” said a 35-year-old mother of two daughters who are in the second and fourth grades at the school. “We need to think of measures to prevent similar incidents.”

A 75-year-old man who escorted his grandchild, who is in the third grade, to the school said crime of this kind must not be tolerated. Even though the suspect was arrested, he said he still feels “anxious” about the safety of schoolchildren.

The school’s principal held an assembly to talk about the incident and to urge the students to be safe during summer vacation, which starts soon.

“Some of the students looked more tense than usual,” the principal said. “We will watch over them carefully.”

The principal added that the school will rush to implement new security measures.

School officials said the mother of the kidnapped girl called to thank them for their support.

PHOTO GALLERY (CLICK TO ENLARGE)