Tokyo (CNN) — The son of a local Japanese government official is in police custody after allegedly going on a shooting and stabbing rampage in the central city of Nakano on Thursday, a rare crime in a country with tough gun laws and a low murder rate.
Masanori Aoki, a 31-year-old farmer, was arrested on suspicion of killing a 61-year-old police officer by shooting him in the chest with what appeared to be a hunting rifle, police in Nakano, a city in the country’s Nagano prefecture, told CNN.
Two other people died Thursday, a woman in her 40s and another police officer age 46. And on Friday, a 70-year-old woman found outside the house where the suspect had barricaded himself in was pronounced dead, police said.
About 100 investigators are working “to clarify the full extent of this extremely heinous incident,” Nagano police chief Iwao Koyama told reporters Friday.
Koyama said the incident had caused “great anxiety” in Japan, a country of 125 million where gun violence is extremely rare. It has one of the world’s lowest rates of gun crimes due to its extremely strict gun control laws.
In 2018, only nine deaths were reported from firearms – compared with 39,740 the same year in the United States, according to data compiled by the Sydney School of Public Health at the University of Sydney.
How the alleged attack unfolded
Police were called to the scene late Thursday afternoon with reports that a man had stabbed a woman with a 30-centimeter long “survival” knife, according to Koyama.
As the drama unfolded, a witness to the attack told Japanese broadcaster NHK that he saw a woman run toward him, pleading for help while being pursued by a masked man in camouflage.
In a statement posted to social media, Nakano officials urged citizens to stay indoors, while authorities designated an “evacuation zone” with a radius of 300 meters around the scene of the incident.
About 60 people were evacuated to a middle school gymnasium, where local officials were providing shelter, blankets, food, and drinks.
Koyama told reporters Friday the suspect stabbed a woman and then a man. He said the suspect then shot and killed two police officers with what looked like a hunting rifle before barricading himself inside a home belonging to Nakano City Council Chairman Masamichi Aoki, thought to be his father.
Koyama said Aoki lived with his parents and his aunt, and that Aoki’s 57-year-old mother and 60-year-old aunt escaped the family home and were rescued by police.
Low gun violence rate
Gun ownership is rare in Japan, where strict gun laws make it almost impossible to obtain a rifle.
However, NHK reported Friday that Aoki had a license since 2015 to possess four hunting rifles, including shotguns and air guns.
According to the government, hunters and target shooters may own shotguns and airguns under “strictly circumscribed conditions.”
To qualify for a firearm license, potential buyers must attend an all-day class, pass a written test and a shooting-range test with an accuracy of at least 95%. They also must undergo a mental health evaluation and drug tests, as well as a rigorous background check – including a review of their criminal record, personal debt, involvement in organized crime and relationships with family and friends.
After obtaining a gun, the owner must register their weapon with police and provide details of where their gun and ammunition is stored, in separate, locked compartments. The gun must be inspected by the police once a year, and gun owners must retake the class and sit an exam every three years to renew their license.
However, Japan was rocked by a shooting last year that reverberated around the world.
Former prime minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated during a campaign speech in Nara in July, sending shock waves through the country and the international community.
In 2022, nine incidents involving firearms took place in Japan including Abe’s assassination, one down from the previous year, according to the National Police Agency.
Of the nine incidents, six are believed to have been committed by gangs and other groups. In total, four people were killed and two injured in the nine incidents.