• Kyodo

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Former classmates and acquaintances of Haruka Kobayashi, who was arrested Monday in connection with the death of a 7-year-old girl in the city of Niigata, have spoken of the positive impressions they had held about the 23 year-old electrical worker.

They all said it was hard to imagine that Kobayashi would be suspected of committing a heinous crime.

Kobayashi’s home, where he was living with his family before he was arrested on suspicion of abandoning and damaging the girl’s body on May 7, is located only about 100 meters away from where the victim lived, according to investigators. “I didn’t have a bad impression of him at all,” said a woman in her 70s who lives nearby and has known the suspect’s family since his childhood. “I thought he would be the last person to harm a small child.”

After graduating from an technical high school, Kobayashi started working at an electrical construction company in the city. He was in his sixth year with the firm. Upon hearing news of the arrest the company president said he couldn’t believe his ears, adding that Kobayashi was a “serious-minded” and “quiet” person.

According to a former classmate of the suspect, Kobayashi had graduated from the elementary school attended by the victim — Tamaki Omomo, a second-grader who died from suffocation, police said.

As a junior high school student, Kobayashi was a member of a science and technology club that participated in robot contests.

The former classmate said Kobayashi was involved with assembling robots and that the club had achieved excellent results at a national competition.

“I remember him smiling after being recognized for (robot building) at a school assembly,” the former classmate said.

He described Kobayashi’s personality as “mature” and “not gloomy.”

He remembers Kobayashi in high spirits, playing tag with friends.

The man said it was very difficult to believe he could be arrested for such a crime, but that he appeared to be unaccustomed to his life after high school. The former classmates had met in recent years to catch up.

But the way Kobayashi looked was not so different from when he was in junior high school, he added.

“He had friends and was not the odd one out in class,” said another classmate of him while he was at junior high school.

“I don’t have the impression that he was a strange child,” she said.

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