A small town near Tokyo, Japan was left reeling after a man stabbed and killed 19 people, and injured at least 25 others, at a facility for disabled people — the deadliest killing in the country since the end of World War II.
The suspected attacker, 26-year-old Satoshi Uematsu, was a former employee of the Tsukui Yamayuri-En facility for the disabled in Sagamihara, a city about 30 miles southwest of Tokyo. After he turned himself in, the Asahi Shimbun reported, Uematsu said, “It would be better if disabled people were dead.”
“It would be better if disabled people were dead.”
According to multiple reports, Uematsu had made several disparaging comments about the disabled. In February, he threatened to “obliterate 470 disabled people” in letters that he wrote and tried to give to the speaker of the House of Representatives. “My goal is a world in which the severely disabled can be euthanized, with their guardians’ consent, if they are unable to live at home and be active in society,” he wrote.
After showing a “willingness to kill severely disabled people,” Uematsu was committed to hospital, a local official in Sagamihara told Reuters. He was released on March 2 after a doctor concluded that he had improved, according to the official.
“This was not an impulsive crime,” said Yuji Kuroiwa, the governor of Kanagawa prefecture where the attack took place. “He went in the dark of the night, opened one door at a time, and stabbed sleeping people one by one,” Kuroiwa said. “I just can’t believe the cruelty of this crime. We need to prevent this from ever happening again.”
According to a local official who spoke with Reuters, police found a bag with several knives, at least one of which was stained with blood.
The incident has left many people in shock. There is strict gun control in Japan, and the country has one of the lowest homicide rates in the world. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, there were 0.3 homicides per 100,000 people in the country last year. This compared to a worldwide average of 4.1 per 100,000.
“This kind of incident is never heard of in Japan,” Teruaki Sugimoto, a 66-year-old man who lives nearby the facility where the attack took place, told the Washington Post’s Anna Fifield. “We had lots of dealings with the residents during sports events and festivals, and many local people have worked there. I’m shocked that the suspect doesn’t understand the value of human life and that he could do something so heinous.”
“It’s unthinkable that something like this could happen not just in Japan but, here in our community,” Mitsuo Kishi, a 76-year-old man who lives near Uematsu, also told the Post. “I’m speechless. I don’t know what to say. It’s the worst massacre in postwar Japan. I still can’t understand why it happened here.”
The struggle for greater disability rights — and safety — is not one that’s limited to Japan. In the United States, students with disabilities are subject to greater discrimination, and up to half of all victims of police brutality had a disability. At the Democratic National Convention on Monday, disability rights advocate Anastasia Somoza said she fears “the day when we elect a president who defines being an American in the narrowest possible terms, who shouts, bullies and profits off of vulnerable Americans.” Republican nominee Donald Trump has mocked the disabled and been the subject of multiple lawsuits for failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).