YOKOHAMA – Still hoping the alleged perpetrator will show remorse, survivors and relatives of victims marked the first anniversary Wednesday of a deadly stabbing rampage at a care home for the mentally disabled southwest of Tokyo.
Nineteen people died and dozens were injured in the attack at the Tsukui Yamayuri En facility in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture. But while it sent shock waves through Japanese society, Satoshi Uematsu, the 27-year-old former employee of the care home alleged to have carried out the attack has not retracted his claim that the disabled should be eradicated.
On Wednesday, citizens offered silent prayers in front of the care facility while employees of the prefectural and municipal governments observed a moment of silence and hung flags at half-staff.
At about 9 a.m., Kaoru Irikura, the 60-year-old chief of the care home, and Junji Kusamitsu, 73, the chairman of the facility’s operator prayed together with workers.
“Victims’ lives were taken away in a matter of seconds. I feel so sorry that I could not protect them,” said a tearful Irikura.
“I want to cherish and remember the time I spent with (the victims). I am so thankful that I was supported by so many people over the last year,” Irikura said, noting that she offered flowers while thinking of every single victim.
At the prefectural government office, Katsuo Kashiwazaki, 53, who heads the department promoting a society of co-existence said, “We want to continue our work” to overcome such discrimination. The department was created in the wake of the rampage.
After being detained for some five months for a psychiatric evaluation, Uematsu was indicted in February on charges including murder and attempted murder. In a letter sent to a Kyodo News reporter in June, he expressed hatred of the disabled.
According to the indictment, Uematsu broke into the Tsukui Yamayuri En facility in the early hours of July 26 last year for the purpose of murdering the residents, many of whom were unable to communicate due to their disabilities. He fatally stabbed 19 and injured 26 including two facility workers, who were among five staff members tied up by Uematsu.
“I want him to retract his (discriminatory) ideas by accepting that he was wrong,” said Kazuma Otsuki, 67, who heads a group formed by the families of former residents at the facility.
“I hope to see a society in which various people can accept each other,” Otsuki said in a recent interview with Kyodo News.
Takashi Ono, 73, whose 44-year-old son Kazuya suffered serious injuries in the attack, said, “This past year was really tough.” Although Kazuya is now able to smile occasionally, he has lost weight and there are days when he is silent or has panic attacks, he said.
“The incident is probably affecting him still,” added Ono.
Uematsu began working at the facility in December 2012 but quit in February last year after outbursts in which he spoke of euthanizing the disabled.
Following his arrest, Uematsu reportedly told police that he wanted to “save” those with multiple disabilities and felt “no remorse” for what he did.
His trial has not yet started.