Thu, Jun 03, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Japan's educators in dismay over death

AP , TOKYO

Police probed e-mails, examined mobile phone messages and investigated reports of a playground dispute yesterday in a search for the motive behind the killing of a 12-year-old girl with a box-cutter by a classmate in southern Japan.

Shocked education officials, meanwhile, called for teachers to review school curriculums emphasizing compassion and res-pect for human life in their classrooms.

"It is a terrible pity that an incident like this occurred within school grounds. I would like to ask you all to once again take extra measures to ensure an incident like this never happens again," said Yasunao Seki, an official at the Education Ministry, speaking at a meeting convened yesterday for school authorities.

On Tuesday, the 11-year-old killer led Satomi Mitarai to an empty classroom during lunch hour, slit her neck and arms and left her to bleed to death.

Mitarai's bleeding body was discovered in a third-floor classroom by a teacher after the suspect reportedly returned smeared in blood.

Police were investigating the possibility that the killing stemmed from a dispute the two girls had over the Internet.

Media reports told the story of a friendship between two classmates -- who regularly left notes on each other's home pages and used text messaging -- suddenly going awry.

The daily Asahi Shimbun's Web site quoted the suspect as telling investigators that, "I didn't think what she wrote on the home page was funny, so I called her out [of the classroom]. I meant to kill her."

Other students allegedly recalled the two girls fighting during a recent school sporting event, Nippon Television Network reported.

A Nagasaki police spokesman said the leads were being "resolved" but refused to elaborate.

The suspect was in police custody and she was expected to be transferred to juvenile detention while her case goes to family court.

Police did not release her name, according to Japanese legal protections for juvenile offenders.

Parents, teachers and students shaken by the tragedy grieved at Okubo Elementary School, in Sasebo, 980km southwest of Tokyo, at a special assembly.

"We are still extremely shocked," Junichiro Kamogawa, Sasebo city board of education official, said. "We're worried about how to take care of children who were traumatized by it."

The grisly murder has appalled Japan, where a dramatic spike in juvenile delinquency and school violence over the past decade has shaken deeply held beliefs that the country is largely immune to the violence of Europe and the US.

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