IKEDA, Japan - As families prepared to bury the eight children killed at their school here Friday, Japan was struggling yesterday to come to terms with the mass killing that shattered its image as a haven of safety and order.
Area residents brought flowers and incense sticks to the gate of the Ikeda Elementary School in this quiet suburb of Osaka, about 250 miles west of Tokyo, where a man with a history of mental problems went on a rampage, stabbing students and teachers with a kitchen knife.
At least 15 people were injured in addition to the eight first- and second-graders, ages 6 to 8, who died.
The well-wishers offered prayers for the dead children's souls and for the recovery of six stabbing victims listed in critical condition at hospitals.
School officials held a meeting yesterday with parents to discuss safety measures and said that counselors would begin working with students, many of whom witnessed the attack and were said to be in shock.
"If I were a parent of one of the victims, I would kill the attacker," said a 53-year-old man who brought flowers to the school gate but declined to give his name.
Yesterday, at his home in neighboring Takarazuka City, Keiichi Yamashita, 39, received the body of his 8-year-old daughter, Rena, who was killed in the attack. "Schools are supposed to be safe. I didn't expect that she would suffer a tragedy like this," Yamashita told the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
Several parents, who attended the school meeting but declined to be identified, said their children were nervous about the assault and did not want to return to the school, which officials said would remain closed until the middle of this week.
The attack at Ikeda is being viewed in vastly different ways in Japan. For many Japanese, the attack is the latest manifestation that violence is raging out of control in what was once a virtually crime-free society. For others, the episode underscored either the lack of security at Japanese schools or the government's failure to address the growing problem of mental illness.
Some Japanese blamed the stabbing on the country's economic woes, which have caused increased unemployment. And for still others, the rampage was a case of simple homicidal madness that could not have been anticipated.
New details emerged yesterday about the suspect, whom the police have identified as Mamoru Takuma, a 37-year-old drifter. The police said Takuma, who was subdued by school officials during the attack, had been hospitalized for schizophrenia but was released last month.
They said he had overdosed on tranquilizers before he attacked the school.