Satoshi Uematsu, the suspect in last week’s murder spree at a care facility for people with disabilities in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, had abused quasi-legal drugs and made radical remarks for years before the massacre, friends and acquaintances say.
They started noticing his odd behavior around summer 2013, when the remarks began to isolate him from his friends.
While at a barbecue, for example, he asserted that he could see a runway in the mountains, plus other remarks that didn’t make sense, apparently influenced by the hallucinogenic compounds now called kiken (dangerous) drugs.
According to his acquaintances, Uematsu had been abusing kiken drugs since around 2010, when he was in university. His habit began to intensify about two to three years later, they said.
“He would smoke an amount that would normally kill another person,” said one acquaintance familiar with his habit, adding that Uematsu would sometimes go to work after smoking the drugs all night long.
Uematsu was employed by the Tsukui Yamayuri En care facility in Sagamihara for more than three years until February, when he quit after being deemed a threat to the residents. His return last week left 19 of them dead and 26 injured in Japan’s worst mass killing since the war.
Around the end of last year, Uematsu alarmed his closest friends by explaining his plan to kill disabled people and asking them to participate.
“Let’s kill them (the disabled) together, let’s change Japan,” one friend recalled him saying. Another classmate from high school said Uematsu told him he planned to conduct the attack in August.
In February, Uematsu sent his friends disparaging remarks about people with disabilities via the Line messaging app, prompting them to distance themselves from him.
A 26-year-old friend of his said he missed a phone call from Uematsu on July 21, just days before the massacre. He didn’t return the call, but later learned that Uematsu was asking other friends if they wanted to join him.
When they refused, Uematsu would burst into anger, tell them how stupid they were and hang up.
“Most of his friends started keeping a distance. He was really alone just before the incident. That may have been one of the reasons for the attack,” another 26-year-old friend said.
Nearly a week afterward, most of how the attack unfolded has come to light.
According to the latest updates from police, Uematsu broke a window on the first floor of the facility with a hammer at around 2 a.m. July 26. When an employee entered the corridor to investigate, Uematsu punched her, took her keys and bound her with zip ties.
He then stabbed and slashed 43 patients in the next 50 minutes.
Afterward, Uematsu stopped by a convenience store to wash the blood off his hands and arms before turning himself in. He also bought some sweets with a bloodstained ¥1,000 bill, the police said. Some were found in his car.
The neighborhood around the facility was traumatized by the massacre. People living in the area frequently associated with residents of the care facility during neighborhood events.
“I’ve known many of them because we are neighbors,” a 71-year-old man who came to offer prayers and flowers in front of the facility said through tears. “I have no idea why this tragedy had to happen.”
On Sunday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga offered flowers at the care facility, saying the government would do its utmost to investigate the case and prevent a recurrence.
“Psychological support for the residents remaining at the facility and the staffers is important, and the government will provide as much support as we can,” he said.
Suga also said he would seek all information on Uematsu’s treatment following his release from the mental hospital he was committed to in February. Suga added that the education ministry had ordered municipalities to beef up security at schools and other facilities nationwide.
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