TOKYO — A knife-wielding man burst into an elementary school in Osaka this morning, killing at least eight first- and second-grade students and injuring at least 21 other pupils and faculty, police said.
Although crime has been on the rise in recent years in Japan, the massacre deeply shocked this nation, which outlaws guns and generally is considered so safe that parents let their 6-year-olds ride the subway alone to school.
"I was moving the desk because we're supposed to change seats, and a man suddenly came in and started stabbing," an injured boy was quoted by Kyodo News Service as telling an employee of a nearby supermarket.
"Seven or eight children came into the supermarket crying and screaming," another of the store's employees told the Asahi newspaper. "One boy's back was so bloody that he fell down by the register and couldn't speak a word--his lips were so pale."
Officials said the stabbings took place about 10:15 a.m. at Ikeda Elementary School in Osaka, about 250 miles southwest of Tokyo.
Details of how and why the slayings occurred weren't clear.
NHK television, quoting police, said the alleged 37-year-old culprit, wielding a 6-inch knife, entered the school through a first-floor veranda where the first- and second-grade classrooms are. He stabbed a boy sitting on a chair and moved on to three other rooms, injuring a total of 26 pupils and three teachers.
Two girls died immediately, while six others--five girls and a boy--succumbed to their injuries in hospitals.
The victims were between 6 and 8 years old.
The Asahi newspaper's Web site reported that the attacker had previously worked at another elementary school, in an undisclosed capacity, but had been fired two years ago after putting tranquilizers into hot tea consumed by four teachers.
NHK television said the teachers drank the tea and got headaches. The man, identified as Mamoru Takuma, was arrested and released the next day.
Takuma was living in a one-room apartment until last October, when he moved because of allegedly noisy student neighbors, the newspaper said.
The newspaper said Takuma had told police that he had taken 10 dosages of tranquilizers today and had been thinking of killing himself.
He was arrested at the school and taken to a police hospital with light injuries to his hand.
Takuma was reported to be mumbling incoherently because of the medication.
Parents of the 688 pupils who attend the school, which today was ringed with ambulances and police cars, descended on the site to pick up their children, who were moved to the playground after the attack.
Violent crime has been on the rise in Japan, with reports of stabbings becoming increasingly frequent.
A 7-year-old boy was fatally stabbed by a teenager in western Japan in December 1999.
A teenager was arrested last August for stabbing to death three members of a neighbor's family.
The latest massacre will no doubt leave a deep scar on the nation's psyche, as did the 1995 Tokyo subway gassing by the Aum Supreme Truth cult, which left 12 people dead and hundreds injured.
The Education Ministry was setting up a task force to look into today's slayings and preventive measures.