National / Crime & Legal

Man arrested in Osaka murder case likely acted alone, police say

Kyodo

The man arrested late Friday in connection with the murder in Osaka of 13-year-old Natsumi Hirata, whose body was found with multiple lacerations and whose head and face were bound with adhesive tape, likely acted alone, investigators said Saturday.

The suspect, Koji Yamada, 45, told police that a passenger beat her in his car and abandoned the body. But because security cameras had caught him visiting several places by himself on the day the girl’s body was found, police are leaning toward the view that he acted alone, including when he allegedly abandoned her body, they said.

Meanwhile, authorities said the body of another victim, 12-year-old Ryoto Hoshino, was found after investigators tracked the suspect’s car and searched a mountainous area elsewhere in the prefecture to which he had driven earlier Friday.

Yamada was arrested on suspicion of abandoning Hirata’s body in a parking lot in the nearby city of Takatsuki on the night of Aug. 13. The boy and girl were last seen in the vicinity of Neyagawashi Station in Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture, on the morning of the same day.

Yamada, a resident of Neyagawa, has denied abandoning the girl’s body. “Even though I spoke to her and brought her into my car, it was a passenger who beat her in the back seat, and the girl was dead before we knew it,” he was quoted as telling investigators.

The suspect said the passenger removed her body from the car at the parking lot and abandoned it, but added, “I don’t want to name the passenger,” according to police. Yamada was also quoted as saying that he had seen Hirata for the first time that day.

Police said they examined security camera footage near where the girl’s body was found and went on to identify the type of vehicle that was in the area at the time her body was likely abandoned, as well as its license plate number, which matched that of Yamada’s.

The police then found Yamada’s car, a small gray van, in the city of Osaka in the early hours of Friday and began tracking it. After spotting the suspect drive into a mountainous area of Kashiwara, Osaka Prefecture, investigators searched the area and found the missing boy’s body, also bound with adhesive tape, the police said.

Security footage showed Yamada purchasing adhesive tape at a convenience store in Kashiwara shortly after noon on Aug. 13, police said. Hoshino appears to have been dead for several days, they added.

The police intend to further grill Yamada, believing he has knowledge of the circumstances surrounding of the victims’ deaths.

When she was found dead, Hirata had about 30 lacerations to her body, her head and face were wrapped in adhesive tape and her hands were tied behind her back. An autopsy showed that she died from suffocation.

Hirata and Hoshino, both Neyagawa residents, attended the same junior high school. Security cameras had caught them loitering together in a shopping arcade near the station for several hours until around 5:10 a.m. on Aug. 13.

Because footage from a different security camera near the station showed a gray van drive by immediately after the duo was last seen on camera, police allege that Yamada took them away at that time.

Until recently, Yamada worked in Fukushima Prefecture where he was employed to help clean up in the aftermath of the March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, local officials confirmed Saturday.

Since last November, Yamada had been engaged in decontamination work in the town of Kawamata, but he apparently left Fukushima and traveled to the Kansai region for Bon holidays in mid-August.

His work attitude was quite good, the officials said.

On Saturday, Hirata’s funeral was held in Neyagawa, attended by relatives and more than 100 schoolmates. Many of the students were speechless, with some shedding tears as the hearse left the funeral home.

“I hate” the person behind the killing, one of the students said.

At the parking lot where Hirata’s body was found, flowers were placed and some people prayed for the slain girl.

“Just because police arrested a suspect doesn’t mean the two children would come back,” said a 58-year-old company employee who visited the site Saturday. “Their parents will never be relieved from this pain.”

In the mountainous area in Kashiwara where Hoshino’s body was uncovered, nearby residents expressed shock.

“I’m really scared. I may have been close to the suspect,” said a man in his 30s who has two daughters.

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