Tomohiro Kato blamed trolls for his crimes.
It was just after midday on Sunday 8 June 2008, in the shopping district of Akihabara in Tokyo, Japan. Home to mainly electrical stores, the area was particularly popular with young people buying gadgets.
Suddenly, a two-tonne truck careered through the packed streets, scattering pedestrians like skittles. Except, the truck wasn’t out of control. The driver was deliberately running people over.
Then the truck screeched to a halt and the driver jumped out, clutching a five-inch dagger.
Dressed in a beige suit, black T-shirt and Converse trainers, he looked like another shopper. But he’d come to kill.
Running around, screaming, he began knifing passers-by.
Jumping on top of a man he’d hit with his truck, he stabbed him repeatedly. Then he got up and began slashing onlookers. It was carnage. Blood pooled on the pavements.
The man even attacked a policeman. But officers forced him, at gunpoint, to drop his weapon.
The knifeman was identified as Tomohiro Kato, 27.
As he was led away, paramedics desperately tried to save victims where they’d fallen.
Tragically, it was too late for some. Kato’s rampage had left seven dead – six men aged between 19 and 74, and a 21-year-old woman.
Four had died from stab wounds while another three died from injuries sustained by being run over. Ten more were seriously injured.
Charged with multiple murders and attempted murders, Kato told officers he was ‘tired of living’ and had only one motive – to kill people. He said he ‘didn’t care’ who.
When investigators searched his home, they found a detailed log of Internet postings.
In the days leading up to the attack, he’d uploaded messages on a chat forum that he was planning a bloody massacre.
It was a shock to his boss at a car plant, who described Tomohiro Kato as a good worker, and childhood friends remembered him as a good kid.
So what turned this former high-achieving schoolboy into a mass murderer?
Since childhood, Tomohiro Kato had been a fan of comic books and video games. Although he’d achieved good grades at school, he felt different to other students. An outsider.
In a school yearbook in which students were asked to describe their personalities, Kato enclosed a picture of an action hero and wrote crooked in English.
He’d been pushed to succeed by his parents, but his exam results weren’t as expected. After school, he could only find low- paid, temporary manual labour.
Kato lost touch with friends and family. Couldn’t find a girlfriend. He was lonely, isolated and bitter.
That is, until he found somewhere he felt he belonged. An online chat forum for mobile- phone users. He found solace in the other anonymous users.
He poured his heart out, venting about his unstable job, his inferiority complex, his dissatisfaction at his appearance, and his lack of a relationship. As time went on, he began to think of the others as family.
Then everything had changed.Although he never confided in anyone, after committing the murders, he claimed he was targeted by trolls on the forum.
He said they’d harassed him. Even posed as him, writing unfriendly, aggressive messages, which made other users turn against him.
All his life, he’d felt like an outcast – now it was happening again in the only place where he’d felt safe.
That was when he apparently began to plan his murderous attack.
In the days leading up to the murders, he hired a two-tonne truck to drive to Tokyo.
He used his phone to post on the forum during the long drive. The chilling messages gave an insight into his disturbed mind.
5.21am: I’ll crash my vehicle into people and if the vehicle becomes useless, I’ll get out a knife. Goodbye everyone.
6.10: They say the roads I was planning to use are closed. See, everything gets in my way.
6.31: It’s time. Let’s go.
7.30: This rain is awful. Even though I prepared everything perfectly.
7.34: Well, I don’t care. I’ll go even if it’s raining, even if it’s on a small scale.
11.45: Arrived in Akihabara.
12.10pm: It’s time.
Kato accepted responsibility. ‘I am the criminal,’ he said at his first hearing. ‘There is no room to doubt that I was responsible.’
His defence requested leniency, saying his mental state was diminished. But the prosecution argued he’d planned it meticulously.
During his trial, in 2011, Tomohiro Kato apologised to his victims and their families.
‘The only atonement I can make is to reveal the reason I committed such crimes,’ he said.
He claimed he’d been pushed to commit the massacre after being bullied by trolls. He reasoned, once the online bullies knew what he was capable of, they would leave him alone.
The case sparked talk in the Japanese media of the isolation of young people withdrawing from society to live their lives online, losing all sense of reality.
Eventually, Tomohiro Kato was found guilty and sentenced to death.
After, the grieving families described their devastation at the lives lost that day – from the young friends on a shopping trip to the doting grandfather who’d been looking forward to his Sunday lunch.
Kato’s remorse can never bring them back and he’ll now pay the ultimate price for his crimes.