A deadly knife attack on a group of mostly schoolgirls near Tokyo this week raised concerns Wednesday over the safety of schoolchildren in Japan, a country known for its low crime rate and where children usually walk to school on their own or in groups.
Officials say the knife-brandishing man ran while slashing a group of schoolgirls and their parents walking to or waiting at a bus stop in Kawasaki on Tuesday, killing an 11-year-old girl and a 39-year-old man before fatally slashing himself in the neck. At least 17 people, mostly children at a Catholic school, were injured.
“We must do whatever it takes to protect children’s safety,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, urging security officials to increase safety measures to protect commuting schoolchildren. “I feel extreme regret about the extremely harrowing attack that affected many young children.”
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 volunteers in the community, while urging schools and authorities to share information about suspicious people.
The 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, Japan 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.