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Japanese police arrest 14-year-old in beheading of schoolboy

June 28, 1997

TOKYO (AP) _ Police today arrested a junior high school student who confessed to the May killing of an 11-year-old boy whose severed head was found in a schoolyard.

The 14-year-old suspect, whose name was not released, lived in the neighborhood in the western city of Kobe where the victim’s body was found, police said.

The head of Jun Hase, eyes gouged out and mouth split open from ear to ear, was found by a custodian outside the gate of a Kobe junior high just after sunrise on May 27.

In a note stuck in the mentally retarded boy’s mouth, the killer called the police ``fools″ and boasted of enjoying nothing more than seeing people die. Residents and police feared he would strike again.

``More than feeling relieved that a suspect has been caught, I’m surprised that he’s a junior high school student,″ said Akira Yokoyama, a local government official in Kobe.

Several people reported seeing a man in his 30s or 40s around the school just before Hase’s head was found, and police initially appeared to have few other leads.

National broadcaster NHK reported that police had been led to the young suspect as they investigated bizarre killings of pigeons and other small animals in the area.

Lead investigator Seishi Yamashita said in a nationally televised news conference that the suspect confessed today after several hours of questioning. Then police found a knife believed to be the murder weapon in the suspect’s house, he said.

``As far as the motive, that’s something we’ll be investigating very closely,″ he said.

The killing was shocking news in Japan, known for its safe streets and scarce violent crime, and it terrified the neighborhood. Parents and teachers led children to and from schools in groups, often with patrol car escorts. Parks emptied and people stocked up on alarms that a child could set off if accosted.

After the crime, a rambling, 1,400-word letter was sent to a Kobe newspaper claiming responsibility, threatening to kill three more people a week if the writer became upset and expressing hatred for Japan’s high-pressure education system.

The sometimes incoherent letter described killing as a kind of release and included a threat to kill ``vegetables″ _ a word police took to be the writer’s disparaging term for people.

Police had suspected the killer may have had other victims. In March, a girl died after being bludgeoned in the neighborhood. Less than an hour later, another girl was stabbed in the chest and nearly bled to death.

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