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Sagamihara stabbings: Were there warning signs?

Satoshi Uematsu has been accused in the killing of 19 persons at a home for the disabled in Sagamihara City
Satoshi Uematsu has been accused in the killing of 19 persons at a home for the disabled in Sagamihara City

KANAGAWA (TR) – On Tuesday morning, a stabbing rampage at an assisted living facility in Sagamihara City left 19 dead and scores injured. After such a tragedy, the inevitable question is: Were there warning signs?

For 26-year-old suspect Satoshi Uematsu, who turned himself in after allegedly killing 19 people and injuring 26 others at the Tsukui Yamayuri En facility, mounting evidence suggests there were plenty.

Uematsu’s purported Twitter account carried numerous cryptic tweets, including one in February where he said he “might be arrested” — around the same time he was fired from the Sagamihara facility where he used to work. In January he also tweeted, “The company found out. I hope to overcome this with a smile. This 25-year-old will do his best!!”

The suspect was also involuntarily hospitalized in February for two weeks when he tried to hand a chilling letter to the speaker of the lower house. He wrote that he would turn himself in after carrying out his plan to “kill 470 disabled people” at the facility because “all they are capable of doing is creating misery.”

Comments to media by Yuji Kuroiwa, governor of Kanagawa Prefecture, during his visit to the facility on Tuesday also paint a telling picture.

Kuroiwa said the chief of the facility explained to him that Uematsu was “a normal person” when he was hired in 2012.

But Jiji Press quoted Kuroiwa as saying the chief noticed the suspect’s behavior changed and he started claiming he would kill disabled people. Then, the attempted delivery of the disturbing letter came to light.

“I thought it wasn’t appropriate for a facility worker,” the facility chief said. “I waited for the timing to have a discussion, and in the end he voluntarily resigned.”

The facility chief said they had no contact with Uematsu after he resigned.

Lax security?

Experts quickly stressed an urgent need for Japan to shore up measures for assisted living facilities in the wake of what police, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun, are calling the nation’s worst massacre since 1989.

The Sankei Shimbun wrote that security would “inevitably be lax when it comes to intrusions at assisted living facilities, which emphasize care and protection of its residents.”

Kanagawa prefectural officials told the Sankei that the facility’s administration building was equipped with sensors to detect intruders, but they were not installed at the residential block where Uematsu was able to enter by breaking a window with a hammer.

Mitsuru Fukuda, a professor at the College of Risk Management, Nihon University, said, “Central and local governments need to provide subsidies to establish important facilities that are responsible for lives.”

Akira Otsuka, a professor at Sophia University specializing in social welfare, told the Sankei: “For staff at assisted living facilities, what matters most in their work is the extent to which they can grasp and fulfill the needs of inpatients who aren’t able to communicate. They’ll find themselves getting stressed out if they aren’t able to improve their skills after they complete their training. The suspect could’ve known the victims who were residents there, and it’s hard to believe the crime was committed by someone who took pride in their work. The key to unraveling this picture is an investigation of aspects like the suspect’s roles at the facility, the extent of his expertise, his relationship with his superiors and the tenants, and the events that led to him quitting his job.”

The Nikkei Shimbun quoted a source who works with patients as saying that “many patients are admitted for months at a time, but I don’t think it’s unusual for short-term stays.”

Another source said, “I don’t know about the suspect’s condition, but perhaps he should’ve been under watch for a little longer.”