People pray for victims at the site where a knife attack took place in Kawasaki near Tokyo Wednesday, May 29, 2019. A man carrying a knife in each hand and screaming "I will kill you!" attacked a group of schoolgirls near a school bus parked at a bus stop just outside Tokyo on Tuesday, officials said. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Deadly knife attack on schoolgirls startles Japan

May 29, 2019 - 6:46 am

TOKYO (AP) — In a country considered to be among the safest in the world, this week's deadly knife attack near Tokyo on a group of mostly schoolgirls has startled Japanese parents and officials.

Authorities say a knife-brandishing man slashed the schoolgirls and their parents as they walked to or waited at a bus stop in Kawasaki on Tuesday. An 11-year-old girl and a 39-year-old man were killed before the attacker fatally slashed himself in the neck. At least 17 people, mostly children at the Caritas elementary school, were injured.

A father of a student at the Catholic school said Wednesday that he believed the system in place for the children to travel to school was a sound one, but is now unsure what can be done to ensure the kids' safety. The system entails the children walking from a nearby train station to the bus stop to take a privately run bus to school, escorted by their teachers.

"The school was taking good care of our children for their safety, including the bus driver," the man, who did not want to be identified, told reporters. "How on earth can adults protect our children?"

Experts say Japan's current safety measures that largely rely on elderly people and volunteers in the community rather than security experts are not enough to deal with a crime like one on Tuesday, which they described as a suicide attack.

Children going to school in the morning are vulnerable to attacks because they can be easily located, and those at a fixed location like a school bus stop, especially children wearing uniforms, could be targets, said Mieko Miyata, head of a nonprofit research institute specializing in children's safety.

"In addition to neighborhood monitoring, there should concrete anti-crime measures, such as the presence of professional security guards in uniforms," she said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told police and education officials on Wednesday to reinforce safety measures and patrols to protect schoolchildren across the country. He also asked for more neighborhood watch groups by community volunteers, while urging schools and authorities to share information about suspicious people.

"We must do whatever it takes to protect children's safety," Abe said. "I feel extreme regret about the extremely harrowing attack that affected many young children."

Japan's government has previously set up crime prevention manuals for commuting schoolchildren. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that officials are considering seeking out safe locations where children can gather before going to school in groups, either on foot or by bus.

Meanwhile, police on Wednesday raided the home of the alleged attacker, 51-year-old Ryuichi Iwasaki, in Kawasaki.

Television footage showed investigators entering Iwasaki's house, where all windows and screens were closed. Kanagawa prefectural police would not confirm details of the search, but local media said the investigators were searching for clues about Iwasaki's motive for the attack.

While shooting deaths are rare in Japan, the country has had a series of high-profile killings in recent years. In 2016, a former employee at a home for the disabled allegedly killed 19 people and injured more than 20. In 2001, a man forced his way into an elementary school in Osaka, stabbing eight children to death and injuring 15 other people, including teachers.

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