A knife-wielding man apparently aggrieved at having been fired from the facility in Sagamihara, west of Tokyo, went on the rampage at 2:30 a.m. local time. He killed 19 people and injured 26 more, a dozen seriously. They have been transported to nearby hospitals for treatment. NHK, the public broadcaster, aired footage of ambulances lined up outside the facility.
The suspect, a 26-year-old whose name was given as Satoshi Uematsu, then drove himself to the police station to turn himself in. He was immediately arrested on suspicion of attempted murder and unlawful entry to a building.
“I did it,” he told police, explaining that he was angry at losing his job at the facility, according to local TV reports. “It’s better that disabled people disappear,” the police quoted him as saying, according to local reports.
The stabbing took place in the Tsukui Yamayuri-en facility in the Midori part of Sagamihara, about 35 miles west of Tokyo. The facility was built by the prefectural authorities and is run by a social welfare service organization called Kanagawa Kyodokai. The people who live there have a wide range of physical disabilities. Some can walk and do outside activities while others are bed-ridden.
Some 149 people aged between 18 to 75 live at the facility, NHK reported. All are intellectually disabled but some also have physical disabilities and mental disorders. Thirty-two of the residents have lived at the center for more than 30 years. Eight staff members are regularly on duty overnight.
Uematsu allegeldy used a hammer to break a window and get into the facility, Nippon TV reported. He started stabbing residents but was apprehended by a staff member, apparently tying up the person and snatching their keys before going on to stab more people, Nippon TV reported. NHK said a hammer was found and a window was broken at the facility and a knife in his car outside the police station.
Such bloodshed is highly unusual in Japan, which had one gun death last year, and the attack was shaping up to be the worst single-perpetrator mass murder in modern Japanese history.
But there have been occasional high-profile stabbing incidents, including one in 2008 in the Tokyo neighborhood of Akihabara in which seven people were killed after a man in a truck plowed into a crowd of shoppers, then stabbed several bystanders. The death toll in Tuesday’s rampage was higher than in the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, carried out by members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, in which 12 people were killed and 50 severely injured.
Japanese people waking up to hear the news were in shock Tuesday morning.
“I woke up and was shocked to hear what had happened,” TV Asahi quoted a resident of the area as saying. “This sort of things never happened here before. Helicopters were flying and everything.”
A father who has his child living at the facility told NHK: “I heard of the news on the radio and came here at 5 a.m. but I can’t get inside and don’t know what’s going on.”