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Survivor of Aum's '94 sarin attack dies while in coma




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photoYoshiyuki Kono, who spent the past 14 years caring for his comatose wife Sumiko, attends to her needs in this April 2006 photo.(Asahi Shimbun File Photo)

MATSUMOTO, Nagano Prefecture--A woman who was left comatose after Aum Shinrikyo's sarin gas attack here 14 years ago died early Tuesday of respiratory failure, her husband said.

Sumiko Kono, 60, never regained consciousness after inhaling the deadly gas released near their home on the night of June 27, 1994, by seven cult members who targeted a housing complex for local court judges presiding over a civil dispute involving the cult.

For the past 14 years, she had been cared for by her husband Yoshiyuki Kono, who was the first to report what had happened.

The attack killed seven people and sickened about 600, some seriously.

Sumiko was rushed to hospital in cardio-respiratory arrest. She barely survived, having suffered brain damage from a lack of oxygen. Her brain was atrophied, causing frequent bouts of apnea and pneumonia.

"I think she has done her best to hold on wishing to live for the sake of her family," her husband, who was also sickened in the gas attack, said Tuesday.

"For the past 14 years, she has given me the energy and strength to live," said Yoshiyuki, 58, who won widespread sympathy for his dedication to caring for his unconscious wife.

Sumiko was re-admitted to hospital on June 11. Previously, she was being treated at a facility for people with serious disabilities. Her husband was told her days might be numbered.

The couple has a son and two daughters. The family said it plans to hold a private funeral service in their home.

The peaceful existence of the Konos was shattered on that fateful night 14 years ago.

Sumiko, who was in the living room, inhaled the gas and fell unconscious. Yoshiyuki, who also fell sick, phoned for an ambulance.

As the first person to report the incident, the cause of which was not immediately understood, Yoshiyuki was initially suspected of involvement. Police searched their home, and the media, without naming him, reported on the case as if he were a suspect.

The police and the media later apologized for jumping to conclusions.

Over the years, Yoshiyuki gave lectures about his experiences of being wrongly accused of a crime, while devoting himself to nursing Sumiko.

Calling her Sumi-chan, he massaged her limbs and applied skin care while her favorite classical music played in the background. He took her for "walks" to the riverside in a wheelchair.

When he called to her, she moved her lips and appeared relaxed, the family said.

They celebrated her 60th birthday with 60 orchids.

Sumiko had fallen into a critical condition several times before. Doctors were surprised each time she recovered.

Sumiko and Yasuyuki met as a teacher and a student in an electronic organ class.

Journalist Shoko Egawa, known for her coverage of Aum crimes, said her death underlined anew the atrocity of the cult's actions.

"Fourteen years have passed, but many families are still left suffering," she said.(IHT/Asahi: August 6,2008)



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