National / Crime & Legal

Parents of girl murdered at Osaka school in 2001 speak out about school safety

Kyodo

Fifteen years after a man stabbed eight children to death and injured 15 other people at an elementary school in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, the parents of one of the victims are speaking about their experience and lobbying for better security at such facilities.

Mamoru Takuma, 37, burst into the school on June 8, 2001, and stabbed victims apparently at random.

Takuma was convicted and then executed in 2004.

Hajime Sakai, 54, and his wife Chie, 55, lost their daughter in the attack. Maki was 7 years old at the time.

Maki was stabbed four times but made her way 59 meters down a school corridor before collapsing from loss of blood. Blood stains and a hand print on the wall were testament to her struggle. It was not until four months later that investigators were able to recreate her last steps based on DNA evidence.

When faced with the evidence of how Maki fought to the end, the parents decided they needed to do something to help prevent incidents in the future.

They have been addressing audiences to improve security at schools and urging better support for victims in the future.

Two years after the massacre, the central government and families of the bereaved signed an agreement that pledged to work on measures to prevent any recurrence.

The Sakai couple now regularly hold lectures across the nation to describe their ordeal. They have also joined a study group on how media reporting could hurt those involved.

On top of that, Chie served as a member of an education ministry panel that created a guideline on how schools should react when cases involving casualties are reported at schools.

With her input, the guideline now obliges schools to report to the families involved within a week when a fatality is involved. A coordinator is designated to act as a go-between.

Speaking to an audience of around 180 teachers in Shiojiri, Nagano Prefecture, in May, Chie said it is imperative to let parents know that their child is safe.

Even after 15 years, it is still painful for the Sakai couple to talk about that day, describing it as like “ripping off the feathers” from their body.

Chie still wonders why it had to be her daughter who died. And there is no answer to that question, she says.

“But talking about it and helping schools to change . . . that’s what I can do for Maki,” she said.

During a ceremony at the school on Wednesday, the fifteenth anniversary of the attack, mourners gathered at a monument to observe a moment of silence. Children offered flowers and sang a song.

“We will not forget the lessons we have learned from this incident, and will continue working together to promote safety at school,” said school principal Yasushi Sasaki, 54, who was a teacher at the school at the time of the massacre.

Many school across Japan stepped up security following the attack, such as by locking school gates and installing security cameras.

Meanwhile in Tokyo, mourners laid flowers at the site in Akihabara where a motorist mowed down pedestrians and then assaulted survivors with a knife on June 8, 2008. Seven people died with 10 injured in the attack.

Temporary worker Tomohiro Kato, 33, was convicted of the attack and is on death row.

He drove a truck into a pedestrian-only zone, running down five people, of whom three were killed. He then got out of the vehicle and fatally stabbed four passers-by with a dagger.

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