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, killing two people and injuring at least 17 before killing himself, officials said.
Most of the victims were students at a Catholic elementary school who were lined up at the bus stop near Noborito Park in the city of Kawasaki when the man began slashing them with knives. Officials said police captured the attacker but he died at a hospital from a self-inflicted cut in his neck.
Witnesses described a hellish scene: children and adults falling to the ground, some with their shirts soaked with blood, dozens of children running and screaming for help, and school bags and books scattered on the ground.
“I heard a scream so I stopped and turned around to see what happened. It was not a normal tone of voice,” said Yasuko Atsukata. She said she saw one person collapse, and then another. “The colour of their white shirts turned red after they collapsed, then I understood they got stabbed.”
In a nearby parking lot, a frightened-looking boy was in shock with scratches on his face, hands and legs, apparently from falling to the ground as he ran for his life.
Police identified the attacker as Ryuichi Iwasaki, a 51-year-old resident of Kawasaki, and said they were still checking his occupation. The attacker’s motive wasn’t immediately known.
Police found two more knives in the man’s knapsack in addition to the two he was holding, according to media reports.
Iwasaki reportedly lived with his elderly uncle and aunt and was known as a troublemaker. A neighbour said Iwasaki repeatedly rang her doorbell early one the morning about a year ago and yelled at her husband that he had been hit by a tree branch sticking out from their yard, the Sankei newspaper reported.
Kawasaki city official Masami Arai said most of the injured were students at Caritas Gakuen, a Catholic school founded by Soeurs de la Charite de Quebec, an organization of Catholic nuns in Quebec City in Canada. Arai said three of the injuries were serious.
Kanagawa prefectural police confirmed 17 people were injured and three others had died, including the attacker. Police identified the two other fatalities as 11-year-old Hanako Kuribayashi and Satoshi Oyama, a 39-year-old government employee who was taking his child to the bus stop.
Hospital officials said both had been slashed in the neck and the head.
Caritas Chairman Tetsuro Saito said at a news conference that he was “struggling to fight back my anger.”
“My heart is broken with pain when I think of the innocent children and their parents who send their children to our school with love who were victimized by this savage act,” he said.
School officials said they will step up security measures at the school, including adding more security guards. But the incident raises questions about how schools can ensure the safety of children while commuting. Japanese children often walk to schools in groups.
Witnesses said that as the attack unfolded, the bus driver shouted at the attacker, and as he was running away he cut his own neck, collapsing in a pool of blood as police seized him.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he was outraged by the attack.
“Many small children were victimized, and I feel strong resentment,” Abe said as he was hosting President Donald Trump on a four-day state visit, which ended Tuesday. “I will take all possible measures to protect the safety of children.”
Although Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, it has had a series of high-profile killings, including in 2016 when a former employee at a home for the disabled allegedly killed 19 people and injured more than 20 others.
Also in 2016, a man stabbed four people at a library in northeastern Japan, allegedly for mishandling his questions. No one was killed. In 2008, seven people were killed by a man who slammed a truck into a crowd of people in central Tokyo’s Akihabara electronics district and then stabbed passers-by.
Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo.
Associated Press journalist Haruka Nuga contributed to this report.
Mari Yamaguchi And Jae Hong, The Associated Press