Two people are dead and sixteen are wounded after a man armed with two knives attacked a group of schoolgirls as they were boarding a bus in Kawasaki, Japan, officials told the media yesterday.
The dead include an 11-year-old girl and a 39-year-old man. Fifteen of the 16 people wounded were children, and three of them are battling life-threatening injuries.
“I heard a scream, so I stopped and turned around to see what happened. It was not a normal tone of voice,” one witness, Yasuko Atsukata, told the Associated Press. After watching two people fall to the ground, she recalls that “the color of their white shirts turned red after they collapsed, then I understood they got stabbed.”
The motives of the 51-year-old attacker aren’t known, but witnesses say he ran through the crowd of children, slashing as he went. He screamed, “I’m going to kill you!” as he fled the scene, and police found him not far away with a self-inflicted slash to the neck. He died at a hospital later that day.
Residents were surprised to learn about the attack, and the New York Times reports that Japanese parents often allow their young children to travel to school unattended.
“This is a very safe neighborhood,” Toki Kudo, the owner of a Century 21 real estate office not far from where the stabbings took place, told the Times. “I was born and raised in this town, and I have never heard of any crime like this.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he felt outraged when he heard about the incident and vowed to take steps to keep Japanese schoolchildren safe.
“It was an extremely harrowing incident in which many small children were victimized, and I feel strong resentment,” Abe said as he was hosting U.S. President Donald Trump’s four-day state visit ending Tuesday. “I will take all possible measures to protect the safety of children.”
Japan enjoys relatively low rates of violent crime, but the country’s draconian gun control laws haven’t stopped mass murders from taking place.
In 2016, a former employee at a home for the disabled killed 19 and injured more than 20 others with a bag of knives in the worst mass killing in Japan since World War II.
In 2008, seven people were killed by a man who slammed a truck into a crowd of people in central Tokyo’s Akihabara electronics district and then stabbed passers-by.
In 2001, a man burst into an elementary school in Osaka and killed eight children with a kitchen knife.
Blades of all kinds are controlled in Japan by the Swords and Firearms Possession Control Law of 1958, which was amended most recently in 2018, according to the Tokyo Weekender. Owning a knife with a fixed blade longer than 15cm requires permission from the prefectural public safety commission, but that knife can only be kept in the home.
Pocket knives are legal to carry as long as the blade is shorter than 6cm. Anything between 6cm and 8cm requires permission from the prefectural public safety commission, and blades exceeding 8cm are banned outright.