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Toyama Pref. elementary shooting sends shockwaves through education community

The Toyama Prefectural Police's Okuda Police Box is cordoned off after a man fatally stabbed and shot a police officer there and then shot a security guard at a nearby elementary school in the city of Toyama on June 26, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOYAMA -- The deadly shooting of a security guard at an elementary school here by a man who snatched a gun away from a police officer he fatally stabbed has sent shockwaves through the educational community.

The man, Keita Shimazu, 21, a former member of the Self-Defense Forces, was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder on the premises of Okuda Elementary School in the city of Toyama, Toyama Prefecture, on June 26. Police subsequently upgraded the charges to murder. The incident, which took place in broad daylight on a weekday, once again raised concerns over the safety of school premises as the suspect intruded into the elementary school from its front gate.

Schools across Japan had begun to take full-scale countermeasures against strangers intruding into school premises after a knife-wielding man stormed into the Ikeda Elementary School in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, and went on a stabbing rampage, killing eight children and injuring 15 others, in June 2001.

Following the incident, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology produced a crisis management manual for schools to deal with intrusions by suspicious individuals in December 2002. The manual provided concrete countermeasures such as limiting the number of entrances to school premises and locking them up except for during morning and afternoon commute hours; checking up on visitors to schools; and deploying security guards.

These measures have since been adopted at many schools, with a ministry survey showing that 97.7 percent of elementary schools nationwide had taken measures against intrusions as of the end of the 2015 academic year, such as installing security cameras. The survey also found that 96.2 percent of elementary schools had equipped themselves with two-pronged weapons for catching criminals, called "sasumata" in Japanese, and nearly 20 percent of elementary schools had prepared tear gas spray. In addition, drills have been carried out at many schools in conjunction with local police stations.

The Okuda Elementary School, which became the scene of the June 26 fatal shooting, had adopted anti-intrusion measures. Upon receiving the initial report on the suspect attacking a police officer at a nearby police box, school principal Yoshiaki Iino instructed teachers to be on alert on the first floor with sasumata in hand. He also had students evacuated into a gymnasium in about 10 minutes and locked up the school buildings just in case.

However, crisis management scenarios at schools do not necessarily include precautions against gun-wielding strangers. While the education ministry manual showed a handgun as a possible weapon held by a suspicious intruder, a ministry official admitted that such a scenario is hard to conceive.

School officials in other areas were also perplexed at the incident. An elementary school principal in the Kinki region in western Japan lamented, "You cannot say such a crime would never occur at our school. I wonder how far we should take precautions against people with malicious intentions." Just earlier this month, the school had a drill against suspicious intruders with police officers in attendance. One of the police officers told school officials that suspicious people who do not comply with an order to leave should be overpowered right away. However, the principal said, "The person may be just a local resident. It would be difficult to take such action in front of children. The measure is theoretically comprehensible, but the hurdles are fairly high."

Another source linked to an elementary school said, "It's not impossible for a stranger carrying a handgun to break into school premises, and it would be difficult for teachers alone to cope with such a situation."

A man in his 40s with a child commuting to Okuda elementary said, "I don't think any measures taken on a daily basis could save you from handguns. It would be impossible to protect yourselves from such weapons."

(Japanese original by Masaki Ishikawa, Hokuriku General Bureau, Yukiko Hayashi and Akira Okubo, Osaka City News Department)

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