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Japan mourns school victims

weeping parents
The tragedy has rocked the suburban community  


IKEDA, Japan -- Relatives and friends have gathered for Buddhist funerals of the young children killed in a brutal classroom slaying which shocked this nation once proud of its safety from crime.

Grieving families prayed for the children's souls as services for seven of the eight victims were held Sunday.

The children were killed when a former janitor with a history of mental illness calmly walked through the open front gates of a prestigious elementary school at mid-morning on Friday, entered classrooms and began stabbing children at random.

The scent of incense lingered as mourners brought flowers and offerings to place in front of the school gate again on Sunday.

"I was shocked. It is just too sad," said one woman in her twenties, offering a teddy bear for the slain children.

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The victims -- seven girls and one boy -- were mainly seven-and eight-year-old pupils at the private school in Ikeda, a suburb of the western city of Osaka, Japan's second largest metropolitan area.

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CNN's Marina Kamimura reports on the latest from Japan (June 11)

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Thirteen other students and two teachers were also wounded. Eight remain in a critical condition.

"It is scary. It's hard to believe that it was an act of a human being," said a relative of seven-year-old Maiko Isaka, one of the seven girls killed.

"I saw her in the morning. She was chirpy and warm. The next time I saw her, her body was cold," said Mayuko's father, Yoshitaka Isaka, who wept as he addressed mourners Sunday at the girl's funeral

Mayuko's father read from a school essay the girl wrote recently.

"I'm really looking forward to going to Universal Studios over summer vacation with my family," she wrote. "My family's the most important thing for me in the world."

The girl's former nursery school teacher had trouble containing her grief.

"She was such a cute and happy child," said Sanai Kitahara. "She loved to wear ribbons in her hair."

Dedication

"She was a very bright girl," said her piano teacher, bursting into tears.

"I will go home and dedicate a song for her."

Girl with flowers
A girl leaves flowers for her classmate victims  

At the funeral of another victim, 7-year-old Ayano Moriwaki, a framed picture of the girl was flanked by flower bouquets and letters from her classmates. After the service, a hearse carrying her tiny casket drove off to a crematorium.

School authorities have also suggested holding a joint memorial service for the eight, but no date has been set.

At a wake on Saturday evening for the only boy killed, six-year-old Takahiro Totsuka, some 30 classmates, most dressed in their school uniforms, paid their respects.

While many of their mothers were in tears, the children showed little emotion as they emerged from the funeral home.

School principal Yoshio Yamane said on Saturday that given the children's persistent fears, he was not sure when school would resume.

"I don't know if the children want to return to their classrooms and so I don't know when we can resume classes," he said in tears.

Yamane and other officials also announced that the school would have a security guard, virtually unheard of in Japan.

The Osaka regional government has set up a special centre with 14 counsellors to provide telephone assistance to help the grief-stricken cope.

The tragedy came as Japan faces an increase in high-profile violent crimes and in incidents where children's safety has been threatened when strangers easily entered school premises. It may prompt the shaken nation to stiffen laws on crimes by the mentally ill and to barricade schools, now open to all.

Suspect mentally ill

Mamoru Takuma
The suspect, Mamoru Takuma, has been described as 'mentally ill'  

The suspect, 37-year-old Mamoru Takuma, had previously been arrested after allegedly lacing with tranquilisers tea for teachers at a school where he worked as a janitor.

He was not brought to trial as he was deemed mentally ill, and instead was hospitalised and then released.

Police said Takuma told them on Friday he was "fed up with everything" and wanted to be put to death.

Media said on Sunday police found an axe, another knife and two icepicks in the car Takuma drove to the school.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told public broadcaster NHK his government would lose no time in looking at changing the law following the massacre.

"There are issues that must be dealt with both from the point of view of medical treatment and the Penal Code," Koizumi said. A ruling party task force will look into the matter from Monday.

The attack was Japan's worst mass killing since a deadly nerve gas attack on Tokyo's subways six years ago, and the latest in a series of fatal slashings in a country that has strict gun laws and has prided itself on a low crime rate.

A family of four was murdered in their Tokyo home in December, just four months after a 15-year-old newspaper delivery boy was arrested in southwestern Japan on suspicion of stabbing three neighbors to death as they slept. Two other fatal stabbings over the past year and a half have occurred in schoolyards.

The Associated Press & Reuters contributed to this report.







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