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JapanTuesday, July 26

19 Killed at Home for Disabled

Police in a town west of Tokyo are trying to find out the motive of a man arrested after a deadly knife attack. They believe he planned the rampage at a care home for people living with disabilities.

Nineteen people were killed and 25 others were injured.

The sirens tore apart the quiet of the early morning. Ambulances raced down the main street, trying to save the victims of one of the worst mass killings in the country's history.

Police believe a former employee of this care facility broke in through a window. He allegedly tied up a staff member before then going after the nearly 150 residents. They're people with intellectual disabilities, ranging from 18 to 75 years old.

Not even an hour later, he'd turned himself in to police. Family members are grieving and outraged.

"The victims are people with disabilities, including very young people. I'm angry that the suspect did this to them," said a relative of one of the residents.

For residents in this normally peaceful mountain town, it's shocking beyond belief. One boy says the people at the facility were part of the community. Every year, the neighbors met with them to celebrate a summer festival together.

"I know some of the people caught up in the attack. So this is really sad," says Hirai Hara.

Police allege the killer is 26-year-old Satoshi Uematsu. One woman says she would see him around town.

"The suspect used to greet people nicely. But he seemed to change sometime around this spring," she said.

Authorities say he worked at the facility for more than 3 years and they say he told them he doesn't currently have a job. Police found 3 knives in his bag, some covered in blood.

They say he had given a letter to a police officer guarding the residence of the Lower House Speaker in February -- the same month the suspect stopped working at the facility.

In the letter, he wrote that he wanted people with disabilities to disappear.

"As the police try to figure out what led to his rampage, there will likely be questions about why he wasn't investigated in the first place, and if any of the deaths could have been prevented.

NHK World chief correspondent Yoichiro Tateiwa joins anchor Minori Takao in the studio.

Takao: What exactly happened there?

Tateiwa: There's not a lot of information. But let me explain what we know so far using a map of the facility.

The suspect, Uematsu, broke into this building in the middle of the night using a hammer that police later found at the site. The care home houses 149 people with intellectual disabilities. Nine employees were working the night shift when the suspect broke into the building. We don't yet have details of what took place. But police say the suspect broke into the facility about 2:30 a.m., and he turned himself in a few minutes past 3 a.m. So we can assume he assaulted the people there with a knife, or several knives, within half an hour.

Takao: What do we know about the attacker?

Tateiwa: We know he's a 26-year-old male who has no job. And he was known to local police. Police sources say he visited the official residence of the Speaker of the Lower House in February and handed in a letter saying he would terminate people with disabilities for the sake of the country. He was then forcibly hospitalized because he posed a danger to the public. But he was set free within a week, after a doctor decided he could be discharged.

His neighbor told us that when Uematsu was studying at university he wanted to become a teacher. But that didn't happen. Instead, he worked at the care home until this February. The neighbor also told us that Uematsu lived by himself and seemed to be a nice young man. The neighbor said Uematsu always greeted him when he walked by. But he also said he'd heard Uematsu quit his job at the care home because he committed an act of violence there.

Takao: How are people in Japan reacting to this mass murder?

Tateiwa: It's very shocking to everybody in this country. Mass killings are rare in Japan. Police think that the motive behind the attack is from his personal thoughts. Japan is known as one of the safest countries in the world. We have very tight regulations prohibiting people from possessing firearms, for example. But it's true that such incidents have taken place in the past.

Back in 2001, a man broke into an elementary school in Osaka and killed 8 children with a knife. And in 2008, a man assaulted pedestrians in Tokyo. He killed 7 and wounded several. There was a similarity between them. Both men considered themselves to be dropouts and showed dissatisfaction with society, so social dissatisfaction can lead to atrocities being committed in this country.

Takao: What are the police investigation focusing on now?

Tateiwa: The police believe this murder was solely carried out by Uematsu. They are investigating his motives. He told police that he believes people with disabilities should disappear. And he wrote that letter saying people with disabilities should be terminated. It is not clear exactly what he meant but it could be that his dissatisfaction grew while he worked at the home. Police will have to look into his medical records.