Japan knife attacker wanted to kill the 'severely disabled'

Satoshi Uematsu, who killed 19 people in a centre for those with disabilities sought a world 'in which the severely disabled can be euthanised'.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Police officers investigate near a facility for the disabled, where a deadly attack by a knife-wielding man took place, in Sagamihara, Kanagawa prefecture, Japan. July 26, 2016.

New details uncovered about the man who killed 19 people with disabilities in Japan revealed the 26-year-old purposely sought to "kill severely disabled people".

Satoshi Uematsu, a former employee of the Tsukui Yamayuri-En facility in Sagamihara town, 40 kilometres southwest of Tokyo, said he had no intention of harming the Tsukui centre's staff when he entered the premises early Tuesday morning. According to hospital staff, Uematsu, donning a black tshirt, was first spotted at the facility at approximately 2:30am local time.

By the end of his spree, Uematsu killed 19 patients and left at least 25 others wounded. All of the victims were asleep at the time of the killings.

Local officials described what happened. "This is not a case of a reactionary crime," the prefectural governor said. "He went into the dark of night, opened one door at a time and stabbed people. I just can't believe the cruelty of it."

According to letters Uematsu had written in February, he stated that his goal was: "a world in which the severely disabled can be euthanized, with their guardians' consent, if they are unable to live at home and be active in society." 

An official told Reuters Uematsu had been involuntarily admitted to a medical facility in February when he tried to deliver a letter to the speaker of the lower house of parliament. That letter expressed his willingness to kill those with extreme disabilities.

After a doctor deemed that his condition was improved, Uematsu was released from the medical centre.

Uematsu’s neighbour Kihiro Hasegawa said, "Disabled people aren't able to communicate their feelings to others, and some are physically immobile, and need someone to take care of them. During his time working at the facility, he saw staff and parents struggle and probably thought that maybe it would be better if children who are disabled did not exist."

The dead ranged in age from 19 to 70 and included nine males and 10 females, Kyodo news agency reported.

Mourning the dead

Residents of Sagamihara said they were in shock. There hasn't been a reported murder in the area in the last decade.

"This kind of thing doesn't happen in Japan. It's unthinkable it happened so close to me," said Masae Mizoguchi, a 78-year-old retiree who lives up the hill from the facility.

"This is a peaceful, quiet town so I never thought such an incident would happen here," said Oshikazu Shimo, one of many residents of the town who gathered near the three-hectare facility.

Taxi driver Susumu Fujimura said of the attacker: "He said 'we should get rid of disabled people' but he's the worthless one."

Referring to the victims, Fujimura said: "That kind of person can't defend themselves … That's why so many died. It makes you weep to think of somebody just murdering them."

Police had recovered a bag with several knives, at least one stained with blood, a Kanagawa prefecture official said.

At least 29 emergency squads responded to the attack, Kyodo reported, with those wounded taken to at least six hospitals in the western Tokyo area.

Such mass killings are rare in Japan and typically involve stabbings. Japan has strict gun laws and possession of firearms by the public is rare.

At least eight children were stabbed to death at their school in Osaka by a former janitor in 2001. In 2008, seven people died when a man drove a truck into a crowd and began stabbing people in Tokyo's popular electronics and "anime" district of Akihabara.

A revision to Japan's Swords and Firearms Control Law was introduced in 2009 in the wake of that attack, banning the possession of double-edged knives and further tightening gun-ownership rules.

Members of a doomsday cult killed 12 people and made thousands ill in 1995 in simultaneous attacks with sarin nerve gas on five Tokyo rush-hour subway trains.