Japan vows to clamp down on suicide websites after 'despicable' serial murder of nine

Investigators removing items from the flat of Takahiro Shiraishi in Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, on Oct 31, 2017. He told police he cut up his victims and "disposed of their flesh and internal organs like trash", while keeping their heads and bones. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO - Nearly two weeks after a man was arrested for killing and cutting up nine people, Japan has vowed a concerted response against 'suicide websites'.

Takahiro Shiraishi, 27, who was nabbed on Oct 31, has confessed to preying on victims who expressed suicidal thoughts on social networking site Twitter, luring them with suicide pacts to die together.

But he reneged on this pact, killing and dismembering his victims whom he found using the hashtag "suicide recruitment". Nine heads and 240 bones belonging to his nine victims - eight females and one male aged between 15 and 26 - were found at his Kanagawa apartment on Halloween.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Friday (Nov 10) said specific steps to clamp down on websites and social media sites that propagate suicide content will be announced next month.

"The use of Twitter - a social networking site that is difficult to keep an eye on - to exploit the cries for help by victims who wrote about committing suicide is despicable," he said. "We will get to the bottom of this crime, and work towards preventing its re-occurrence."

Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Seiko Noda, in noting that 50 per cent of junior high and 90 per cent of senior high students own smartphones, stressed that utmost efforts will be made to plug any loopholes in Internet regulations.

In the first half of this year, more than 900 people under the age of 18 have fallen victim to crimes via social media, including sexual crimes such as child prostitution and pornography, National Police Agency statistics show.

Criminal profiler Enzo Yaksic, director of Northeastern University's Atypical Homicide Research Group, told The Straits Times that with increased surveillance, serial killers now "behave in ways that are not typical to how they operated in the past".

He said: "Researchers are beginning to see the dark recesses of the Internet feature prominently in the planning stages of a serial murderer, as they utilise it to locate potential victims, research the methods of previous killers, connect with other like-minded individuals, and store records of their activities and achievements."

The Japan Times said in an editorial on Friday that outright regulation of online messages posted anonymously through accounts using pseudonyms would be difficult. Further complicating matters is the fact that users may choose to exchange messages directly with each other after the first contact is made.

Shiraishi's spate of murders has sent shockwaves across highly-wired Japan, a nation with low crime rates but with a seeming propensity for violent crime.

He has been quoted as telling the police that none of his victims "had actually wanted to die", and that he "could not remember any faces after the second victim".

The identities of the nine victims, released by Tokyo police early Friday morning, included three high school students and one young mother.

Kyodo News reported that police could not positively identify the victims earlier because of the state of the dismembered parts, which were stored in cooler boxes in Shiraishi's 13.5 sq m apartment.

Police tapped on evidence, like bank cards left by victims at his home, as well as GPS tracking data from mobile phones, for a preliminary identification. They then collected DNA samples from family members for a confirmation, the report said.

Here is a snapshot of the nine victims in order of the dates of their disappearance:

Mizuki Miura, 21, from Atsugi, Kanagawa prefecture
- Went missing on Aug 21
- Worked at a job placement agency
- Described by a former classmate as a "quiet and elegant person who became cheerful and energetic when she started talking"

Kureha Ishihara, 15, senior high school freshman from Gunma prefecture
- Went missing on Aug 28, the first day of the school term
- Described by a former classmate as someone "who would wait for someone to talk to her rather than talk first", according to the Asahi Shimbun
- Was a member of a 'child assembly' programme that was organised by her local municipality last year

Shogo Nishinaka, 20, from Yokosuka, Kanagawa prefecture
- Went missing on Aug 29
- Graduated from high school last year, and was working at a facility for those with disabilities
- An enthusiastic bass guitarist, he played in a music band with whom there were plans to go on a tour

Hinako Sarashina, 19, from Tokorozawa, Saitama prefecture
- Went missing on Sept 15, after telling her parents she was going to work a shift for her part-time job
- Sophomore at Jissen Women's University
- Attended a private high school, where she was a member of the school's drama club

Hitomi Fujima, 26, young mother from Kasukabe, Saitama prefecture
- Went missing on Sept 23, after leaving her workplace earlier than usual, colleagues told local media
- A divorced mother with a young daughter

Akari Suda, 17, third-year high school student from Fukushima City
- Went missing on or after Sept 26, when she attended a school sports day event. She did not attend school the next day
- Aspired to become a manga artist and had served as a leader at her junior high school's art club

Natsumi Kubo, 17, second-year high school student from Saitama City
- Went missing on Sept 30, after telling her parents she was going to buy lunch at the nearby supermarket
- Had confided in her family that she did not want to go to school and wanted to seek psychiatric help
- Member of her school choir in junior high

Kazumi Maruyama, 25, from Yokohama, Kanagawa prefecture
- Went missing on Oct 18
- Was a part-time worker at a convenience store, and her mother was quoted as saying that "she had a smile on her face again, having found work"
- Was reportedly a victim of bullying in school

Aiko Tamura, 23, from Hachioji, Tokyo
- Went missing on Oct 21; first victim to be identified
- An animal lover whose dream was to work in a pet shop in future
- Was warded in a psychiatric facility
- Her brother, concerned by her disappearance, hacked onto her Twitter account and discovered her exchanges with Shiraishi. The discovery led to a police sting operation that led to Shiraishi's arrest.

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