Impact of Disabled Slayings
Jan. 26, 2017
It's been half a year since the worst mass killing in Japan's recent history. A man suspected of killing 19 disabled residents of a care facility in Sagamihara, near Tokyo, continues to express disdain toward people with disabilities during investigations.
The suspect used to work for the facility. 27-year-old Satoshi Uematsu has been undergoing a psychiatric assessment which will be completed by late February.
The incident has left deep emotional scars in many people that are yet to heal.
Exactly 6 months after the tragedy, there are still many who visit Yamayuri-en to mourn the victims.
"I came here asking myself what I can do. It's been half a year since the brutal incident, but I can remember that day like yesterday. Nothing has changed," says one of the visitors.
"We will never forget our peers. We will never forget the 19 lives that were lost," says another.
Families of those killed are still at a loss at how to accept the deaths of their loved ones.
Kazuma Otsuki, the head of a group representing the residents' families, spoke to NHK for the first time.
"Each resident has a different disability and his or her family has their own view and life. So I can't explain their feelings in a single phrase. The only thing I can say is that we need to unite and encourage each other as we go through the experience. "
The mass murder happened in the early hours of July 26th.
Police say Uematsu started using violent language and behavior against people with disabilities early last year.
Five months before he went on the rampage, he addressed a letter to a Lower House speaker.
In the letter, he expressed hate toward disabled people and their families. He wrote that he wanted them to disappear, and that such people can only create misery.
A group of people with intellectual disabilities and their families posted a message online after the incident. The message said that all people, regardless of their disability, cherish their life, and are doing the best that they can. They say each life that was lost in the incident is irreplaceable and precious.
Police have not disclosed the victims' names, citing privacy requests from some of their families.
Naoya Nakagawa is a former employee of the facility. Among the victims was a 55-year-old man. He was the first person that Nakagawa looked after as a caregiver. Nakagawa still feels strong anger regarding the incident.
"The suspect said he stabbed people who were not able to communicate with others. But that was a total lie. The victim, my friend, could definitely communicate."
Nakagawa at the time was not used to the job of caregiving. The man taught him how rewarding the job was, and Nakagawa came to respect him as a mentor.
"He was strict, but gentle at the same time. He rewarded me with a smile for my efforts. I really think I was lucky that he was the first person I cared for. We do remember the residents and will never forget them, as we spent time together. I can only say that it's impossible to forget them," says Nakagawa.
The incident also affected disabled people unrelated to the incident, as well as their families.
Nobuko Mikata is battling an intractable disease that gradually weakens her muscles. She is angry that the victims' names have not been disclosed.
She writes songs about them, and performs them in public. "Praise the dignity of the 19. Praise the strength of the 19," she sings.
Mikata used to live in a facility, but now she is on her own. As the director of a non-profit organization, she supports people with disabilities who wish to become independent like her, helping them find homes and jobs.
Mikata says the anonymous victims reminded her of herself, back when she was in the facility. She is trying to convey her thoughts for them to the public by writing lyrics.
Another woman says that she knows how wrong the suspect's views of disabled people are from her experience of raising a disabled child.
Yuka Tanaka's son, Kazuya, is 17. He is intellectually disabled, and attends a school for children with special needs. Tanaka expressed mixed feelings at the site of the incident.
"Of course what he did was totally outrageous, but I can't completely denounce his way of thinking. When I think about my son, the way he is, he's unable to contribute to society by paying taxes, for example. It definitely gives me a sense of guilt," she says.
Tanaka says she struggled for many years to accept her son's condition.
She was told Kazuya had a disability when he was 2. The unexpected diagnosis shocked her.
"I don't remember how I got home that day. It's a wonder I didn't fall off the station platform. I love to read books, so I was utterly devastated at the thought that my son would never be able to do so."
Tanaka says she remembers her son's hand when he was young.
"I was determined to hold hands with him until his first few years of elementary school. I was afraid to let go, because I thought he would run off somewhere, and if he acted strangely, people would realize that he was disabled. I wanted to protect myself," she says.
Tanaka tried to teach him vocabulary and social skills. She prepared a desk and chair at home, just like the ones used at school. She wanted her son to grow up just like other kids.
"I assumed he could at least pronounce a few letters of the Japanese alphabet. I sometimes forced him to do it. "
She tried anything she thought would help her child, but it didn't go as she'd hoped.
She learned of the murder suspect's comments that the disabled do nothing but create misery. That brought back memories of the way she used to feel.
But Tanaka now believes the suspect's views are wrong.
That's because of her newfound joy in watching her son grow.
"I no longer deny the existence of my son. I accept Kazuya as he is. I love him completely, including his shortcomings. I don't want to be pitied unnecessarily, or to have others think he is making my life miserable."
Tanaka used to escape into the woods when she didn't want to be in the house with her son.
But now, they enjoy going there together.
"Even when I want him to go away, deep inside, I want him to stay. I love him. I have so many contradictory feelings. It's very sad that the person who committed the murders did not understand such feelings."
When Kazuya was a child, Tanaka would hold his hand tight, so that he wouldn't wander away. Now, she is letting her son lead her.
Beppu: The crime that was committed 6 months ago was particularly shocking because of the suspect's self-centered remarks justifying his acts.
The message from the group of people with intellectual disabilities and their families rightly pointed out that each and every life matters. That clearly refutes the suspect's twisted logic.
This message was widely circulated through social media and many people expressed their sympathies.
At the same, this should be a moment for us to reflect on why such twisted logic came from a member of our Japanese society.
And why do we need to be reminded of such an obvious message that every life is precious, regardless of being disabled or not.