Hatred appear to be what fueled a young Japanese man who went on a stabbing rampage, killing 19 people Tuesday at a facility for the mentally disabled where he had been fired. Months earlier, he reportedly gave a letter to Parliament outlining the bloody plan.
When he was done, Satoshi Uematsu, 26, had left dead or injured nearly a third of the almost 150 patients at the facility in a matter of 40 minutes in the early Tuesday attack, the deadliest mass killing in Japan in decades. Twenty-five were wounded, 20 of them seriously.
He drove up in a black car, carrying several knives to the Tsukui Yamayuri-en facility in Sagamihara, 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Tokyo, according to security camera footage played on TV news programs. He broke in by shattering a window at 2:10 am, according to a prefectural health official, and then set about slashing the patients’ throats.
Details of how he did that, and if the victims were asleep or otherwise helpless, were not immediately known, although a cryptic letter he sent to Japan’s Parliament in February gave a peek into Uematsu’s dark turmoil.
“My goal is a world in which, in cases where it is difficult for the severely disabled to live at home and be socially active, they can be euthanised with the consent of their guardians,” he reportedly had written in that letter.
He calmly turned himself in about two hours after the attack, police said.
Asahi Shimbun, Japanese media, reported that the suspect was quoted by police as saying, “I want to get rid of the disabled from this world.” He also admitted to officers, “I did it.”
Tsukui Yamayuri-en, which means mountain lily garden, was a facility Uematsu knew well, having worked there since 2012 until he was let go in February.
He knew the staffing would be down to just a handful in the wee hours of the morning, Japanese media reports said.
Not much is known yet about his background, but Uematsu once dreamed of becoming a teacher. In two group photos posted on his Facebook, he looks happy, smiling widely with other young men.
“It was so much fun today. Thank you, all. Now I am 23, but please be friends forever,” a 2013 post says.
But somewhere along the way, things went terribly awry.
Uematsu began to tell people around him that disabled people needed to be killed.
In February, he tried to hand deliver a letter he wrote to Parliament’s lower house speaker demanding all disabled people be put to death through “a world that allows for mercy killing,” Kyodo news agency and TBS TV reported.
Uematsu boasted in the letter that he had the ability to kill 470 disabled people in what he called was “a revolution,” and outlined an attack on two facilities, after which he said he will turn himself in.
He also asked he be judged innocent on grounds of insanity, be given 500 million yen ($5 million) in aid and plastic surgery so he could lead a normal life afterward.
The letter was reprinted by Kyodo after the attack.
“My reasoning is that I may be able to revitalize the world economy and I thought it may be possible to prevent World War III,” the rambling letter says.
The letter, which the Tokyo police got, included Uematsu’s name, address and telephone number, and reports of his threats were relayed to local police where Uematsu lived, Kyodo said.
Kanagawa Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa apologized for having failed to act on the warning signs.
“Normal, nice boy”
Uematsu lived nearby in a large, cream-colored cement house on a hill with overgrown weeds outside. He had lived with his parents until they moved away, neighbors said. A pile of trash inside the home was visible through one of the windows, and a garden shed next to the house was half-open.
Akihiro Hasegawa, 73, who lives next door, said that he often saw Uematsu playing with neighborhood children who recognized him from a local school where he trained as a teacher. He was following in the footsteps of his father, who taught art at an elementary school.
“He was just an ordinary young fellow,” he said.
Hasegawa recently saw Uematsu shirtless outside the house, taking in the sun, and observed tattoos on his chest and back. Except among gangsters, tattoos are still rare in Japan.
Another neighbor, Mitsuo Kishi, 76, agreed that Uematsu was always friendly.
“I never imagined he was the kind of guy who would commit such a crime,” Kishi said.
“My granddaughter always said he was a good teacher,” he added.
There was one sign of violent tendencies: Uematsu was an aggressive driver who would sometimes ram a cement block in his driveway with his car, Hasegawa said.
People in Uematsu’s neighbourhood, about a 10-minute walk from the crime scene, expressed disbelief.
He was a “normal, nice boy” who always smiled and offered a greeting, said next-door neighbour Akihiro Hasegawa.
“This is unbelievable,” the 73-year old told AFP, adding that Uematsu lived in the house with his parents until they moved out four or five years ago.
Hasegawa also said that he had seen an extensive shoulder-to-chest tatoo on Uematsu and there was a rumour in the neighbourhood he might have been fired from the facility because of it.
Signs of mental illness
Yasuyuki Deguchi, a criminologist, said Uematsu’s actions were typical of someone who bears a grudge and seeks revenge, because it appeared he planned out the attack, and then he turned himself into police.
“Accomplishing his goal was all he wanted,” Deguchi said on TV Asahi.
Michael Gillan Peckitt, a lecturer in clinical philosophy at Osaka University in central Japan, and an expert on disabled people’s issues in Japan, said the attack speaks more about Uematsu than the treatment of the disabled in Japan.
“It highlights the need for an early-intervention system in the Japanese mental health system. Someone doesn’t get to that state without some symptoms of mental illness,” he said.