TOKYO (REUTERS, AFP) - Japanese police on Wednesday (July 27) raided the house of a 26-year-old man suspected of stabbing to death 19 people and wounding dozens of others at a facility for disabled in a small town near Tokyo, Japan’s worst mass killing in decades.
About half a dozen plainclothes police entered the home of Satoshi Uematsu, a former employee of the facility, as reporters and TV cameras stood by.
Uematsu was earlier sent from a regional jail in the town of Sagamihara, about 45km south-west of Tokyo, to the Yokohama District Public Prosecutors Office in Kanagawa prefecture earlier in the day.
Video footage showed him smiling broadly in the police car as it drove away. An official at the Tsukui police station where Uematsu was held after the attack declined to comment on the investigation, only confirming that he was being transported to prosecutors for questioning.
Uematsu, who gave himself up to police on Tuesday after the attack, had said in letters that he wrote in February that he could “obliterate 470 disabled people” and gave detailed plans of how he would do so, Kyodo news agency reported.
Uematsu was involuntarily committed to hospital after he expressed a “willingness to kill severely disabled people”, an official in Sagamihara told Reuters. He was freed on March 2 after a doctor deemed he had improved and was no longer a threat to himself or others, the official said.
Local media said Uematsu has told police that he wants to apologise to bereaved families about the sudden loss of their loved ones, though he still justified what he did.
“I saved those with multiple disabilities,” he told police, according to private broadcaster TV Asahi, citing investigative sources.
Uematsu broke into the care centre in the forested hills of Sagamihara in the early hours of Tuesday. He reportedly tied up two caregivers before stabbing residents using a total of five knives – leaving a total of 26 people injured, 13 of them severely.
He quickly turned himself in at a police station, carrying bloodied knives and admitting to officers: “I did it.” Uematsu reportedly also said: “The disabled should all disappear.”
Security camera footage taken near the centre showed a vehicle arriving there shortly before the attack began. The driver opened the boot to remove objects before walking towards the facility.
At around 2.50am, shortly after an emergency call was made to police from the centre, the footage shows the driver dashing back to the vehicle, carrying a large bag.
The attack has shocked a nation where the crime rate is low and such mass killings rare.
It has also sparked debate on whether and how the system for involuntary commitment and aftercare broke down, since Uematsu had previously made clear his intent to commit the crime.
“Involuntary commitment is done forcefully by the authorities... If the time period drags on longer than necessary, it becomes a serious violation of human rights,” Asahi newspaper said in an editorial on Tuesday.
“However there were warning signs before the incident,” the paper added. “Was the treatment and outwatch of the man sufficient? It is vital to closely examine the system of support for the man and his family, and the contacts between the medical system and the police.”
The top-selling Yomiuri Shimbun daily called the case “appalling” and urged a probe of the decision to release Uematsu from medical care.
"It is a matter of great regret for society to let such a serious stabbing incident happen,” it said in an editorial which called for increased security at care facilities.
Japan has one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the developed world. The killing spree is believed to be the nation’s worst since 1938, when a man armed with an axe, sword and rifle went on a rampage that left 30 people dead.