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Specialists talking with mass murder defendant in hope of 'normalizing his mind'

Two social welfare specialists are in contact with the defendant in a trial over the 2016 mass murder of 19 residents at a care home for those with disabilities, as the second anniversary of the incident draws near.

The experts are meeting with Satoshi Uematsu, 28, who has been indicted for murder and other crimes, in hopes of "bring normalcy to his mind," as professor Takashi Sasaki, a specialist in social welfare at the University of Shizuoka Junior College, explained.

"The disabled create unhappiness," Uematsu told investigators after he allegedly broke into the Tsukui Yamayuri En care home in the city of Sagamihara in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, where he used to work, on July 26, 2016, and apparently committed the murders. Uematsu is now receiving a psychiatric evaluation.

Professor Takashi Sasaki of the University of Shizuoka Junior College (Mainichi)

Professor Sasaki met the defendant at a detention facility. When he told Uematsu through a transparent window dividing the two about his desire to convey the mindset of caregivers, Uematsu said "thank you" in tears and bowed, according to Sasaki. The expert said he spoke in the hope of making the defendant understand the meaning and importance of caring for the disabled.

In December last year, the professor wrote to Uematsu that he would like to see him because he wants to understand the path the defendant took prior to the murders. Sasaki's motivation was rooted in his capacity as the father of a son with intellectual challenges, as a teacher for students hoping to work in the welfare sector, and as a researcher, the professor explained in the letter. Sasaki's 22-year-old son was very scared by the 2016 mass murder case and asked his family to make sure to lock the doors because "Uematsu is coming and I am going to be killed." A reply came back from the defendant the next month.

After their first meeting in April, the professor drew a conclusion, based on his observation of the defendant's tears and courteous behavior, that perhaps Uematsu was lonely. The defendant, however, did not budge from his earlier statement, according to Sasaki. "I would like to continue to come and see him and explore the background of his thinking, until his mind returns to normal," the professor said.

Junji Nishikado, a lecturer at Senshu University (Mainichi)

Junji Nishikado, a former Yamayuri En worker who now teaches sociology at Senshu University, has also been visiting Uematsu since January this year. Some of the victims in the 2016 incident were people Nishikado knew. The university lecturer read out the names of all 19 victims, and asked the motivation of the crime the defendant allegedly committed. Uematsu simply replied, "There is no need for the disabled in society." Nishikado felt that the defendant still bundles the victims together as "the disabled" and does not see them as individuals.

Nishikado, meanwhile, is collecting items that prove that the 19 people did live meaningful lives. Parts of his efforts include interviews with bereaved families and people connected with the Yamayuri En home. "It is important to tell Uematsu that each and every victim had an important presence to someone."

Participants dedicate flowers at a memorial ceremony marking the second anniversary of the 2016 mass murder at the Tsukui Yamayuri En home, in Sagamihara's Mimani Ward, on July 23, 2018. (Pool photo)

Meanwhile on July 23, a ceremony marking the second anniversary of the 2016 incident at the Yamayuri En home was held in the Minami Ward of the city of Sagamihara. Kanagawa Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa told some 600 participants that the incident must be remembered.

During the ceremony, stories of the 19 victims' lives were introduced, but their names were kept secret out of consideration for the feelings of the bereaved families. Their pictures were not shown either. Instead, lilies made with numerous pieces of paper consisting of 19 colors were placed on the altar.

(Japanese original by Ai Kunimoto and Kazuhiko Hori, Yokohama Bureau, and Kenichi Mito, City News Department)

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