As Japan grappled with shock Tuesday following a mass murder carried out by a lone intruder at a care facility for disabled people, employees at similar facilities expressed concerns about their security as the industry is plagued by a shortage of workers.
“I did not expect something like this to happen,” the director of a care facility in Tokyo said. “We don’t have a special security guard, and our staff at night is usually shorthanded. They were usually busy handling a heavy workload at night.”
At around 3 a.m. Tuesday, Kanagawa Prefectural Police officers arrested Satoshi Uematsu, 26, after he turned himself in and said he committed the stabbing rampage at the Tsukui Yamayuri En (Tsukui Lily Garden) care facility in Sagamihara.
Uematsu was reportedly a former employee at the facility, so he would be intimately aware of its layout and security procedures.
At least 19 people were killed and a further 25 were wounded, including 20 who were still listed in serious condition as of Tuesday afternoon.
“If he broke into the building by breaking a window, I believe it was impossible to stop the incident,” the director of the Tokyo care facility said.
Tsukui Yamayuri En was set up by the Kanagawa Prefectural Government and is operated by the social welfare organization Kanagawa Kyodokai.
It had 149 residents between the ages of 19 to 75 as of the end of June, according to Kanagawa officials. Many of the residents had mental and physical disabilities and were in need of constant care. Some also had visual and acoustic impairments.
The facility is regarded as a core of the local community’s social welfare program and actively cares for people with relatively heavy disabilities who cannot be accepted by other care facilities.
The facility is located in a greenery-rich area near Lake Sagami and has 21 buildings, including eight two-story dormitories, spread out over about a 30,000-sq.-meter plot of land. It has a total of 220 care givers, including part-time workers.
When the incident occurred at around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, there were eight care givers and one security guard on duty.
The main gate of the facility and doors of each dormitory are usually locked at night, so the intruder must have climbed over a gate and broke into buildings to gain access, according to a prefecture official.
According to police, Uematsu apparently smashed windows to break into one of the buildings.
Security at the facility was relatively strong as it had a security guard at night, a former director of Kanagawa Kyodokai said. But each room inside the dormitories are usually unlocked, so intruders could easily reach residents if they had any intention of assaulting them, the director said.
“If the perpetrator knew the facility well, I believe it was difficult to maintain security,” a staffer of another care facility said.
A group of families with members with disabilities furiously denounced the perpetrator of Tuesday’s attack.
“It was outrageous to harm people who are in need of support just for living,” said Masahiro Tanaka, 55, a board member of a Shiga Prefecture-based organization. “The only thing I can do is to pray for the victims.”
According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, there are about 2,600 resident care facilities for people with disabilities in Japan, with about 130,000 residents. There are no laws to stipulate the security of such facilities.
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