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The man arrested for the crime, Mamoru Takuma, 37, did not appear to have any motive for targeting the school. As his background emerged, however, it became clear that Takuma was a man with serious problems. He dropped out of high school in 1980, was discharged from the Air Force after two years, for undisclosed reasons, and worked as a bus driver. In 1998 he was employed as a janitor at an elementary school in Osaka. A year later, he was accused of drugging water used to make tea at the school; four teachers were hospitalized. Takuma was fired, but he wasn't prosecuted because a judge ruled he was mentally incapable of taking responsibility for the crime. He was admitted to a mental hospital and released after a few weeks. Said Takuma at the time: "My wife wanted to divorce me, and I wasn't having good relations with co-workers. I didn't bear grudges against those four teachers, but I just wanted to release my stress."
Judging by the statements he made to police after the killings, the stress had again become too overwhelming. "I want to die," police said he told them after they carted him away from the school. "If I killed children, I knew I would get the death penalty." According to police, Takuma said he had deliberately taken an overdose of tranquilizers before going on the knifing spree.
After the killings, in schools all over Japan officials dismissed classes early, held emergency meetings with parents and escorted children home. As of last week, Japanese schools like Ikeda Elementary were typically open and easy to enter. "We always felt safe here," says a mother. She doesn't feel safe anymore. Much of Japan, trying to make sense of this latest horrific crime, is feeling the same way, wondering what kind of country it has become.
--Reported by Ginny Parker/Ikeda and Sachiko Sakamaki and Hiroko Tashiro/Tokyo