Photocopier repairer Byran Uyesugi murdered seven colleagues. But why?


Dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, Byran Uyesugi, 40, walked into his workplace, the Xerox headquarters on the island of Honolulu.

By November 1999, he’d been an employee at the firm for 15 years, repairing photocopier machines.

But, this time, he arrived for work armed with a 9mm handgun, about to commit the worst mass murder in Hawaii’s history.

There was no apparent reason for anyone to fear Uyesugi. He stopped to greet a colleague, seemed calm and collected.

Then, as he entered a second-floor office space, he took out his weapon and shot a co-worker in the back of the head as he worked.

Uyesugi’s next victims were in a meeting room. He crept in and then, one by one, picked off five men.

Twenty-five bullets had been shot and seven men executed – Melvin Lee, 58, Ron Kawamae, 54, Ron Kataoka, 50, Peter Mark, 46, Ford Kanehira, 41, John Sakamoto, 36, and Jason Balatico, 33.

Another man was then fired at as he ran down some stairs, but he wasn’t hit.

Uyesugi threatened no-one else, left the building and drove off as if nothing had happened.

Police later found him at a beauty spot. After a five-hour standoff, Uyesugi was arrested.

The crime sent shockwaves round the state of Hawaii.

Honolulu was one of America’s safest cities – with a population of around a million, just 17 murders had been recorded the year before.

So what had caused Uyesugi to disturb the island paradise?

To many, Uyesugi seemed an unlikely killer, often described as a quiet man. He lived with his father and brother, and spent his spare time making furniture, raising exotic fish.

A fellow member of the Hawaii Goldfish and Carp Association said, ‘Frankly, he’s a nice, quiet person, somewhat a loner, but that’s not a bad thing. I don’t think anyone considers him touchy.’

But Uyesugi had another passion. Guns.

A police search of his house found 11 handguns, five rifles and two shotguns.

Uyesugi had been a firearms enthusiast since he was a teenager, when he was in his school’s rifle club.

Uyesugi loved firearms as a teen (Photo: Getty Images)

He’d no record of using his arsenal inappropriately before the shootings.

Why now, aged 40, had he chosen to mow down innocent co-workers?

Uyesugi’s brother Dennis claimed a car accident, 22 years earlier, could hold answers.

He said Uyesugi had crashed their dad’s car into a telephone pole while driving home from a high-school graduation party in 1977, sustaining head injuries.

He said his brother had changed following the smash, but refused to say how.

More background emerged at Uyesugi’s trial in May 2000.

Charged with multiple murders, he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and his father took the stand.

Hiroyuki Uyesugi said that his son had been plagued by a ‘poking sensation’ in his head since 1988, following the death of his mother.

He came to believe that a spirit was tormenting him, and would retaliate by stabbing the floors and walls of the family home.

He said his son didn’t discuss work much, but Byran Uyesugi did suspect that his colleagues were conspiring against him and even mutilating his fish.

He’d also raised concerns he was about to be let go from his job, something Xerox denied.

Dennis said that his brother had told him he’d seen a black shadow at the end of his bed.

When Uyesugi refused medical help, the family had sought support from the spiritual community, organising a Buddhist blessing of their home.

But Uyesugi still claimed he was followed by an evil presence.

James Hughes, a security manager for Xerox, also gave evidence of previous volatile behaviour Uyesugi had exhibited in the workplace.

In October 1993, it was alleged that he’d kicked a lift door and made threats against his co-workers.

Following that, he’d spent five days in a psychiatric hospital, but on return to work his behaviour had been normal.

The prosecution rejected Uyesugi’s insanity defence, saying he was a vengeful employee who did not want his colleagues to have the satisfaction of seeing him fired.

They claimed he was calm and methodical, and that the murder had been planned for that day as Uyesugi had known his intended victims would be together in a meeting.

‘Is the defendant legally insane? The answer is no, because Byran Uyesugi knew, understood, recognised and appreciated that killing seven people was wrong,’ prosecutor Peter Carlisle told the court.

After hearing from mental health experts, who said even if Uyesugi did have mental health problems he was able to judge right from wrong, it was enough to sway the jury.

Uyesugi was convicted of one count of first-degree murder for the multiple killings, seven counts of second-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in the second degree.

He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

With the mass killer locked up for life, the peaceful city of Honolulu was left to heal, but it would always bear the scars of that terrible morning.

The city’s mayor summed up the shock felt by residents, saying, ‘This shows violence can permeate even paradise.’