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Security to be boosted at schools on Hiroshima Prefecture island where prison fugitive is believed to be hiding

Kyodo

Some 96 prison officers will be deployed to schools on Hiroshima Prefecture’s Mukaishima island where a fugitive who escaped from prison over a week ago is believed to be hiding, the justice minister said Tuesday.

The officers will keep watch around the clock on all nursery schools, kindergartens, elementary and junior high schools on the island, Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa said.

The whereabouts of Tatsuma Hirao, 27, a convicted thief who escaped from jail nine days ago, remains unknown despite a search involving thousands of police officers on the forested, 22-square kilometer island.

A mother whose oldest daughter goes to Mukaihigashi Elementary School in the island expressed concern, saying she has been taking and picking her daughter up from school for several days.

“I wonder when (the fugitive) will be caught,” she said.

The area around the school has seen a number of thefts, apparently committed by Hirao.

Mukaishima has a population of around 20,000 with more than 1,000 vacant houses.

The police cannot search inside such houses without permission from the owners, but many of them are unidentifiable. Thus, the police can only investigate the structures from outside, a senior police official said.

Hirao escaped from Matsuyama Prison’s Oi shipyard, a rare open-type prison facility in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture. Some witnesses have reported sightings of Hirao and thefts have also been reported in the northeastern part of the island.

Police on Tuesday placed him on a wanted list for the alleged theft of a car from a private residence in Imabari.

Kamikawa offered an apology to local residents at a news conference, saying, “I have heard the incident has caused anxiety among elderly people living alone and troubles such as traffic jams at police checkpoints. I feel really sorry.”

The ministry administers prison facilities in Japan. The shipyard, one of nation’s four open-type prisons without perimeter walls, has experienced 19 other escapes since it was established in 1961.