National / Crime & Legal

Toyama shooting highlights need to revamp safety measures at schools

Kyodo

Tuesday’s shocking incident in Toyama Prefecture, which left a police officer and an elementary school security guard dead, has highlighted the need for schools to rethink their response to such attacks because current countermeasures do not account for intrusions by gun-wielding assailants.

None of the over 400 students at Okuda Elementary School were hurt in the attack. Teachers escorted the children to the gymnasium and stayed there until the crisis was over.

Former Self-Defense Forces member Keita Shimazu, 21, who is alleged to have stabbed an officer to death at a nearby police box and stolen his gun prior to killing the guard, was later shot near the front gate of the school by another officer. The suspect remains hospitalized.

About 15 minutes after being notified of the officer stabbing, police informed the school that “a knife-wielding man was on the run” and told the school to keep the students inside the building.

Three male teachers, who weren’t informed that the suspect had a gun, guarded four entrances to school buildings with sasumata (a stick used to defend against attackers).

Police later said the initial warning was premature, as they rushed to issue an alert before being fully aware of the whole situation.

“Sticks cannot fight against guns. (The incident) was totally unexpected,” said a senior education ministry official.

The ministry compiled school crisis management guidelines regarding how to repel intruders following a 2001 stabbing rampage at an elementary school in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, that left eight students dead.

The guidelines stipulate that several school staffers should confront intruders together by using umbrellas or sticks as weapons and report to police if they do not leave school grounds. Based on the guidelines, more than 99 percent of elementary and junior high schools had drawn up their own manuals to cope with attacks by outsiders as of March 2016, according to the ministry.

The Okuda Elementary School also had its own manual and conducted safety drills. “Following the manual, we remained calm in responding to the incident,” principal Yoshiaki Iino told a news conference after the crisis.

However, a school worker said sticks would not have been used had the teachers known the attacker was carrying a gun.

Mieko Miyata, head of a Tokyo-based nonprofit group working to ensure children’s safety, said police should have informed the school earlier that the attacker had a gun because “pupils could have been hit by stray bullets while fleeing” from their classrooms to the gym.

She also pointed out it was problematic that the school’s gate didn’t have a door or a fence, allowing anybody to enter and walk inside its grounds. In the 2001 school rampage, the attacker entered the school through an open gate.

Last year, 693 cases of school intrusions were reported, according to the National Police Agency. Earlier in June, a man was arrested at the scene on suspicion of assaulting a girl after he entered an elementary school in Fukuoka Prefecture.

“It is important to reinforce school gates so that no intruders can enter” school grounds, Miyata said.