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Japanese girl stabbed to death in school
Updated: 2004-06-02 09:22

An 11-year-old girl led a fellow sixth-grader to an empty classroom during their school lunch hour Tuesday, slit her throat and slashed arms with a box-cutter and left her to bleed to death.

The grisly slaying at an ordinary elementary school in southern Japan sent shockwaves through the community, leaving many asking how such a tragedy could occur.

The body of Satomi Mitarai, 12, was found by a teacher after the girl who attacked her returned to class in bloody clothes. The teacher called police.

Mitarai died of blood loss after being slashed in the neck and arms with a retractable knife used to cut paper and boxes, police said.

Her father rushed to Okubo Elementary School in Sasebo, 650 miles southwest of Tokyo, after receiving a call that his daughter was hurt.

"When I arrived, Satomi was already lying there collapsed. I couldn't believe what I was seeing," Kyoji Mitarai, the head of the Sasebo bureau of the Mainichi newspaper.

"I can't put in words what I'm feeling right now. I can't understand it at all. I don't have a clue," he said.

He said his daughter never spoke of disagreements with her classmates and appeared to get along well with them.

Authorities took the suspected attacker into custody for questioning. Police called her "Girl A," in accordance with Japanese legal protections that prohibit identifying juvenile offenders.

"Girl A" had called Mitarai out of their classroom as lunch time was beginning and took her to a nearby room. In Japan, lunch is commonly eaten in classrooms.

The girls' teacher said she first noticed something was wrong when the two were missing, public broadcaster NHK reported. Shortly afterward, "Girl A" returned, smeared with blood.

Police said she confessed to the murder and said, sobbing, "I have done a bad thing." Authorities said they have not found a motive.

Mitarai's body was discovered by a teacher who called police. Emergency medical workers said they arrived to find her lying face down on the floor. She wasn't breathing and her heart had stopped, said Kazuyoshi Tominaga of the Sasebo Central Fire Department.

Serious juvenile crimes have become a rising concern in Japan in recent years.

Last July, a 12-year-old boy in Nagasaki a city just north of Sasebo was accused of kidnapping, molesting and murdering a 4-year-old by shoving him off the roof of a car garage.

In the same month, a 14-year-old boy was arrested for beating a 13-year-old classmate to death in Okinawa.

Just three years ago, lawmakers lowered the age of criminal responsibility to 14 from 16 amid public outrage over the brutal beheading of a 10-year-old boy by a 14-year-old in 1997. Last year's murder in Nagasaki prompted many to wonder whether the line should be redrawn.

Violent juvenile crimes remain rare, however. The 1,986 "heinous crimes" murder, robbery, arson and rape committed by minors in 2002 represented just 1.4 percent of all youth offenses, according to the National Police Agency.

Japan's justice system emphasizes rehabilitation over punishment for minors. The boy who beheaded the 10-year-old in 1997 was freed from custody in March at age 21.

Education officials said schools would be offering students counseling after the Sasebo slashing.

"Doctors and school counselors will offer help if needed," said Koichi Tsurusaki, the head of the Sasebo Education Committee. "Many asked for help after last year's Nagasaki incident, so we'd like the counselors to direct the response."

Satomi's father said he would continue to seek an explanation.

"I don't know what went on between the two. She is the same grade in school as my daughter, so I don't know how much she understands," he said. "But when things settle down, I'd like for her to explain what happened."

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