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AKB48 members leave hospital, events canceled

MORIOKA, Japan--An AKB48 handshaking event descended into a scene of terrifying violence on Sunday evening, the venue filled with screams and angry voices.

A 24-year-old man from Towada, Aomori Prefecture, wielded a folding saw at the event in Takizawa, Iwate Prefecture, injuring two members of the group and one of their support staff.

The wounded idols were Rina Kawaei, 19, and Anna Iriyama, 18, both rising young stars of the group. Kawaei sustained cuts and a fractured right thumb while Iriyama suffered cuts and a broken right little finger. The staffer broke his right hand.

According to police, Satoru Umeta was arrested on the spot on suspicion of attempted murder. Umeta allegedly admitted that he hurt people.

“When I heard someone screaming, I thought at first that they were overwhelmed with joy. But then I heard a woman shouting 'No, stop!' and that's when I realized something must have happened,” recalled a 24-year-old company employee who was at the event.

According to police and event participants, the fan meet began at about 2:30 p.m. following a mini-concert with 47 AKB48 members at the Iwate Industry Culture and Convention Center.

Tents were set up next to the stage for the handshaking event. The AKB48 members, including Haruna Kojima, 26, were divided into tents consisting of main, midlevel and junior members. Fans formed lines in front of the tents containing the members they wanted to meet after showing tickets to staff.

Kawaei and Iriyama were inside one of these tents, where Umeta assaulted them with a 20-centimeter-blade saw.

Amid the chaos, an announcement rang out that the event would be suspended. Black curtains were then erected that extended from the crime scene to the exit.

A 43-year-old company employee in Takizawa was outside the event site. “I heard a staff member yelling, 'Clear the road!' I guess that was to let an ambulance in,” he said.

About 800 fans took part in Sunday's event. About 100 security and support staff checked fans' hands and attended to the AKB members inside the tents. However, some participants have raised questions about the security system.

“They didn't check our belongings when we entered the site or before the handshaking event,” remarked a 19-year-old student of a vocational school from Morioka.

Hiroshi Yuasa, a 51-year-old manager of AKB48 Theater in Tokyo's Akihabara district, arrived Sunday night at a Morioka hospital where Kawaei and others were transported. According to him, Kawaei and Iriyama were worried about the event and said, “What happened to the handshaking event?” Regarding security, Yuasa lamented, “We have a lot to think about.”

Meanwhile, Umeta's mother, 58, said to a reporter Sunday night at her home in Towada: “Why did he do that? I don't know how I can apologize (to the victims).”

Umeta lives with his mother and an uncle. After graduating from a correspondence high school, he worked part time until around December. Since then he has been unemployed.

“I don't remember him ever being an AKB(48) fan, and I've never seen any AKB CDs in his room,” his mother said.

Proximity to Fans Brings Danger

AKB48 events that allow fans to shake hands with their idols are big attractions, on par with the group's shows at its theater, and have greatly boosted their popularity.

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Rina Kawaei, center, and Anna Iriyama, right, two members of Japan's hugely popular female pop group AKB48, speak to the media as they leave a hospital wearing hats and covering ...

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