TOKYO (DPA, NYTIMES, AFP) - One girl and an adult were killed and 15 other girls were injured in Japan's Greater Tokyo area on Tuesday (May 28) after they were attacked by a knife-wielding man at a bus stop, the authorities said.
A 12-year-old girl and a 39-year-old man were pronounced dead after they were taken to hospital, officials told a news conference.
Of the 15 girls injured, three six-year-olds were badly injured and one woman in her 40s received severe injuries, another hospital official said.
The girls were attacked while waiting for a school bus near Noborito Station in the city of Kawasaki next to Tokyo, Kyodo News agency reported, citing local authorities.
A man in his 50s, who was in police custody but unconscious after stabbing himself in the neck, died in hospital, Kyodo said, adding that police found two knives at the scene of the attack.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe voiced "strong anger" over what he described as a "harrowing" attack.
"It is a very harrowing case. I feel strong anger. I offer my heartfelt condolences to the victims and hope the injured recover quickly," Mr Abe said in a televised reaction, his first since the attack.
NHK, Japan's public broadcaster, reported that most of the children were girls between the ages of six and seven.
Mr Toshichika Ishii, 57, was sitting on a park bench near where the attack took place when he heard a child scream, "I'm scared," and heard the attacker shouting in Japanese, "I'm going to kill you!"
The attack took place as the children were at the bus stop waiting for a ride to Caritas, a local Catholic school, witnesses said.
Caritas is a private institution run by Canadian missionaries, the only Catholic school in Kawasaki.
It was founded in 1961 as a junior and senior high school. In 1963, it added elementary classes.
In 2017, the school had 648 students and 51 teachers.
After the attack, a steady stream of children were escorted away from Caritas by their parents, who had been told by school officials not to talk to reporters.
One father, who had come to pick up his second-grade daughter, said his wife had seen news of the stabbing on television, and he had received a message from the school on Line, a Japanese messaging service, asking parents to pick up their children.
"There was no reason given," said the father, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I just received a standardised alert asking us to pick up our children."
He said his daughter regularly rode the bus that was scheduled to stop at the site of the attack on Tuesday.
The rampage was a rare attack in a country with one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the developed world and there was no immediate detail on the motive of the knifeman.
The attack occurred during the busy early morning commute as workers headed to their offices and children to school in Kawasaki, a city south of Tokyo.
"One man and one female child are showing no vital signs," said fire department official Yuji Sekizawa, employing a phrase commonly used in Japan to mean the victims have died but the death has not yet been certified by an official medical professional.
"A man stabbed them," another spokesman for the department, Dai Nagase, earlier told AFP.
"We received an emergency call at 7.44am, which said four elementary schoolchildren were stabbed."
Footage broadcast on local TV stations showed multiple police cars, ambulances and fire engines at the scene. Emergency medical tents were put up to treat the wounded.
"I saw a man holding a knife... I couldn't see clearly, but he apparently stabbed himself in the neck," one eyewitness told NHK.
The broadcaster said two knives were spotted at the scene, but there was no immediate confirmation from officials.
US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that Americans "stand with the people of Japan" after the attack.
Standing aboard a Japanese military ship, he offered "prayers and sympathy to the victims of the stabbing attack", adding that "all Americans stand with the people of Japan and grieve for the victims and for their families".
"I heard the sound of lots of ambulances and I saw a man lying near a bus stop bleeding," a male eyewitness, who was not identified, told NHK.
"There is another bus stop near the elementary school and I also saw elementary schoolchildren lying on the ground... It's a quiet neighbourhood, it's scary to see this kind of thing happen," he added.
"It is a very harrowing incident," government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters, referring all further questions on the attack to police.
The attack comes as Japan hosts Mr Trump on a state visit, which wraps up on Tuesday with the US leader visiting an American military base outside of Tokyo.
With such a low crime rate, visitors to Japan are often surprised to see very young children travelling unaccompanied to school.
However, in 2018, a man was arrested in central Japan after stabbing one person to death and injuring two others aboard a bullet train, an attack that prompted new security measures on the famed rail service.
And in 2016, a man stabbed 19 people to death in a disability centre south of Tokyo in what he described as a mission to rid the world of people with mental illness.