KAWASAKI – An 11-year-old girl and a 39-year-old man died in a mass stabbing in Kawasaki on Tuesday morning, a rampage that injured an additional 17 people — including 15 elementary school girls and a boy — and saw the attacker turn the knife on himself, police said.
Investigative sources said they had detained a suspect after the rampage, a man in his 50s, who later died of a self-inflicted stab wound to the neck area, they said.
The man was identified as Ryuichi Iwasaki, 51, of Kawasaki’s Asao Ward.
Police identified the victims as Hanako Kuribayashi, 11, a sixth grader from Tama, Tokyo, and Satoshi Oyama, a 39-year-old Foreign Ministry official.
They both suffered deep stab wounds to the neck.
Oyama was the father of a child who was among the children at the scene. His child was not injured. Oyama was also stabbed in the back and shoulders, suggesting he might have been defending some of the children, police sources said.
Kanagawa Prefectural Police officials said many of the victims, who were waiting at a school bus stop in Tama Ward about 250 meters northwest of Noborito Station, are students from Caritas Elementary School, a private Catholic school in the same ward.
They said the suspect, who was wearing glasses, a black shirt and pants, slowly approached the girls and attacked them with knives in both hands.
He assaulted the victims one by one. According to witnesses, some children screamed : “Help me!” and “Dad and Mom, what should I do?”
Authorities said they found two knives at the site that appeared to have been used in the attack. The blades measured 30 cm each, according to police sources.
Police said two more knives were found in what appears to be the suspect’s backpack.
“I heard children scream ‘I’m scared’ and then turned to see a man with knives shouting, ‘I’m gonna kill you,'” said Toshichika Ishii, 57, who was at a park near the site, adding that he saw children falling to the ground.
Police quoted a bus driver who witnessed the assault as saying, “I tried to stop him, but he started stabbing children and others.”
“He then moved dozens of meters away and stabbed his own neck,” the driver said.
Kazuhiro Yoshida, a 60-year-old bus driver for the elementary school, said he got off his bus when he arrived near the scene and saw “pools of blood.”
“A man in dark clothing was lying on the ground and did not move a bit,” Yoshida said.
Many of the victims sustained wounds to the neck, and they may also develop post-traumatic stress disorder, according to hospitals treating them.
A woman in her 40s who lives near the scene said she saw a rescue worker conducting CPR on a girl and “blood flowing from a man in a suit crouching on the ground and forming a pool.”
The scene and its vicinity were cordoned off as investigators collected evidence.
“I heard fire engines coming in the morning and I saw a man lying on the ground bleeding,” a man who lives nearby told public broadcaster NHK. “I saw many elementary school children lying on the ground near a school bus stop. School rucksacks were scattered all over the place.
“There was another man lying on the ground bleeding at a municipal-run bus stop near the school’s bus stop,” the man added.
A local resident, who declined to give his name, said children attending the school lined up for the bus at the site every day.
“If you live in this neighborhood, everybody knows that these kids are there,” the 66-year-old said. “I’ve been in this area for a long time, I cannot believe that somebody targeted this bus and targeted these small children.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that “children’s safety should be protected at any cost.”
Education minister Masahiko Shibayama said at a news conference Tuesday that Abe instructed him to make every possible effort to secure safety at schools and school commuting roads.
Parents arrived at the Catholic private school later in the day to pick their children up as the school and the local education board scrambled to gather information on the attack.
“I heard from the school that my daughter was inside the bus (when the attack took place). I heard she’s fine but I have not been able to meet her yet,” said a father of a first grader.
The rampage was a rare attack in a country with one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the developed world. There was no immediate detail on the motive of the suspect.
Schools in Japan have stepped up safety measures ever since a knife-wielding man, who sought to be sentenced to death, entered an elementary school in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, and killed eight students and wounded 15 others in 2001.
Many schools lock their gates once classes start and security cameras have been introduced. Volunteers and members of parent teacher associations also line the routes leading to schools. But such measures are limited.
“Even if we thoroughly implemented the plan (for preventing crimes), it is difficult to totally prevent them,” said a senior education ministry official.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who was wrapping up a state visit to Japan, offered his “prayers and sympathy” to the victims as he met troops outside Tokyo on the final day of his trip.
Standing aboard a Japanese military ship, he said that “all Americans stand with the people of Japan and grieve for the victims and for their families.”