• Kyodo

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Security camera footage showing a car entering and leaving a parking lot where the body of 13-year-old Natsumi Hirata was found on Aug. 13 has raised suspicions that somebody in the vehicle was involved in her slaying, police said Thursday.

Officers had originally believed two separate cars were seen in video, in the city of Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture. But police confirmed that the footage shows the same car entering and leaving the parking lot shortly before Hirata’s body was discovered.

Hirata, a first-year junior high school student from Neyagawa, Osaka, was found dead at around 11 p.m. Her face was covered by adhesive tape and there were multiple stab wounds on her body.

The car entered the lot at around 10:35 p.m., parked and turned its lights off.

Investigators are trying to trace the vehicle, speculating that Hirata and Ryoto Hoshino, 12, a classmate of hers who remains missing, could have taken a car ride. Police have found no clues to suggest that the pair boarded a train or a bus.

The parking lot belongs to a distribution company in Takatsuki. It is about 7 km from the children’s homes. Locals say that distance would have been too far for them to travel on foot.

The parking lot is also easily accessible by car from the Keihan Neyagawashi Station, where the children were last seen, leading police to believe they could have been abducted near the station.

Investigators also speculate that they could have been involved in some form of trouble and taken away by car sometime between 3 p.m., when it seems their bicycles were parked near Keihan Neyagawashi Station, and 7 p.m., the estimated time of Hirata’s death.

Footage from security cameras shows a boy resembling Hoshino leaving his bicycle near the station at around 3 p.m. It is thought that two were together by that time because Hirata’s bicycle, found with Hoshino’s, was parked around the same time.

Investigators have said the bicycles were parked within a kilometer of the children’s homes and that security cameras at a shopping street near the station captured them walking back and forth there between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. on Aug. 13.

According to the pair’s friends, the two would often wander along the shopping streets near the station or spend time at nearby karaoke parlors or manga cafes.

The Osaka prefectural ordinance bans children under the age of 16 from entering such entertainment facilities between the hours of 7 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Police speculate that the children were sheltering from the rain beneath the arcades that cover the shopping street between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. on Aug. 13.

The day before Hirata’s death, she was carrying with her a smartphone and a compact tent she had bought in July together with one of her friends.

However, the tent wasn’t seen on the security camera footage of Hirata that was recorded near the station.

The police were also investigating messages that Hirata sent to her friends using the Line messaging service until early in the morning on the day of her death.

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