National / Crime & Legal

Man in custody admits he killed Niigata girl, investigative sources say

Kyodo

A 23-year-old man who was arrested Monday night in connection with the murder of a 7-year-old girl in the city of Niigata has admitted he killed the girl, investigative sources said Tuesday.

Police believe Haruka Kobayashi strangled the victim to death and abandoned the body after transporting it by car.

He told police that his car hit her while he was driving, but the autopsy found no clues of a car crash, suggesting the suspect might have lied about the crash, the sources said.

Police had investigated Kobayashi in April for allegedly driving around a junior high school girl, a suspected violation of a local prefectural ordinance. The case was sent to prosecutors.

Kobayashi, who lives in the same neighborhood as the victim, Tamaki Omomo, was arrested on suspicion of abandoning her body and inflicting bodily harm.

According to police Kobayashi has also confessed to those allegations. The case was turned over to prosecutors on Tuesday.

The president of the Niigata electrical engineering company where Kobayashi is employed said the suspect was “an earnest and quiet employee” who had never missed work without prior notice until May 7.

Kobayashi sent an email to the company in the late afternoon of May 7 saying that he was feeling unwell. He never returned to his place of employment, according to the company president.

The suspect was hired after graduating from high school and was in his sixth year at the firm, according to the president.

The company president said he couldn’t believe the news when he first heard of Kobayashi’s arrest.

The police spotted Kobayashi on Monday morning in Niigata before questioning him on a voluntary basis. According to the sources, Kobayashi has already admitted to abandoning the girl’s body on the track of the JR Echigo Line in the city’s Nishi Ward between 10:20 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on May 7, before the body was struck by a train, and is not believed to have known the girl before the incident.

Kobayashi’s home, where he lived with his family, is just 100 meters from where the girl lived and 70 meters from where the girl’s body was found. Local residents have laid flowers and sweets in tribute to the girl near the location where she died.

On the day of her death, she left her school with friends around 3 p.m. then disappeared after parting with them near a railway crossing located 300 meters from her home.

She was likely killed hours before being run over by the train, as her body temperature was low and there were few signs of bleeding when her body was found by police shortly after the train driver reported that the train had hit her.

As another train had passed along the stretch of line about 10 minutes earlier without incident, the police believe the body was laid on the tracks during that 10-minute period.

A man described as “wearing black clothes and sunglasses” had earlier emerged as a person of interest, when it was revealed the girl had told one of her friends she had been chased by him on the day of her murder, but he is not now believed to have anything to do with her death, the sources said. A white vehicle seen near the site where her body was found was also unrelated to the case, they said.

Monday’s arrest brought relief to worried parents of students attending the school, many of whom voiced their sympathies toward the parents of the victim.

“I am relieved. I hope peace will gradually return to the neighborhood,” said a 43-year-old father who was accompanying his daughter, a student in sixth-grade.

“When I think about how the (girl’s) parents are feeling, I cannot rejoice over the suspect’s arrest,” said a woman in her 20s whose child is in first grade.

Yutaka Hasegawa, the principal of the girl’s elementary school, said in a statement that he remains “outraged” over the incident and vows to “make an all-out effort to get the children’s everyday life back to normal as soon as possible.”