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Japan Mourns Stabbing Victims

Mourners grasping Buddhist prayer beads filed silently into wakes Saturday for several of the eight children killed in Japan's worst mass slaying in years, as the nation struggled with questions about how to keep its schools safe.

The wake for 6-year-old Takahiro Totsuka, the youngest victim, drew about 300 black-clad men and women. Many buried their faces in handkerchiefs. Some tugged along children in navy-and-white school uniforms.

The dead — all between the ages of 6 and 8 — were slain in a knife rampage at an elementary school outside Osaka, Japan's second-largest city, by a former janitor with a history of mental illness.

The man walked unimpeded into the school and went from classroom to classroom slashing at his victims with a knife until being subdued by two teachers 15 minutes later. Thirteen children and two teachers were wounded, and eight of the victims remained in serious condition Saturday.

Â"Our safe society is crumbling, and this is a significant incident,Â" Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said on a taped news program to be shown Sunday on national broadcaster NHK, promising a review of the criminal system. Several other wakes for victims from the attack were held Saturday, media reported, but the number was unknown.

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.

Children described the attack as 10 minutes of sheer terror.

"He came in holding a knife and started stabbing," a first grade female student said.

"We were listening to an announcement over the loudspeaker, and then it was broken into by a scream and a noise like a desk falling down," a sixth-grade girl said. "Then I heard someone scream from below, 'Run!'"

Several children ran into a nearby supermarket yelling and crying for help, witnesses said.

"One of the boys, whose back was stained with red blood, fell in front of the cashier. He was pale and did not speak a word," a shop clerk told a television reporter.

Other students described teachers and hallways spattered with blood.

"We are filled with anger over this unfortunate situation," said Kaoru Nakatani, head of Osaka Education University, which operates the elementary school.

Police identified the attacker as Mamoru Takuma and said he used a kitchen knife with a six-inch blade. After his arrest, he was taken to a hospital with what were reportedly self-inflicted wounds, then turned over to police, a blue hood hiding his head, blood splattered across his legs.

It was not clear what might have led to the attack. Police said the suspect told them he had taken 10 times the daily dose of an unspecified anti-depressant.

Takuma told police he was "sick of everything" and wanted to be caught and executed, a police official in Osaka said, speaking on cndition of anonymity. He told police he had tried to kill himself repeatedly but always failed, the official said.

Takuma was arrested in March 1999 and accused of spiking the tea of four teachers with tranquilizer at the school where he worked, but he was never prosecuted because he suffered from psychological problems, said Nobuharu Sugita, an official with the police in Itami, a city near Osaka.

An emotional Yoshio Yamane, the school principal, said at a news conference that words could not express what happened.

"We are overwhelmed with shame that this kind of disaster occurred and feel true, true rage at the perpetrator," he said. Yamane also apologized to parents, surviving family members and others effected by the attack.

In the confusion after the attack, ambulances and police cars lined the school's campus and hundreds of children in their school uniforms sat in rows on the playground as their peers were treated on stretchers.

Police said the attacker climbed into a first-floor classroom from a verandah and began slashing children in the back of the room. He then moved into the hallway.

Several children were slashed in their sides and arms as he moved into other classrooms. As the attacker tussled with two teachers, school officials called the police and rushed the children out to the school playground. Ambulances sped onto the campus, and rescue workers and police rushed to care for the injured.

The stabbings, during a morning recess period, come as Japan is grappling with an upswing in violent crime. The country's strict gun laws mean most of the attacks are being committed with knives.

School and juvenile violence have been rising in recent years in Japan, punctuated by a series of sensational crimes — tough to take for a country that has long enjoyed lower crime rates than other developed nations.

"This kind of thing should never happen," said Education Minister Atsuko Toyama. "Schools should be places where children can feel safe and secure."

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