TOKYO (AP) — Japanese police said Thursday that a U.S. military contractor arrested on suspicion of abandoning the body of a young woman on Okinawa is now officially the prime suspect in her murder and rape, in a high-profile case that has sparked outrage on the southern island.
Anti-U.S. military sentiment runs deep on Okinawa, where residents have long complained about the heavy presence of U.S. military bases and crime linked to them. The arrest took up a significant part of a Japan-U.S. summit that was held a week later, causing President Barack Obama to apologize. The U.S. Marines on Okinawa issued an order two days later restricting celebrations and off-base drinking.
The arrest last weekend of a U.S. sailor for alleged drunken driving has added to the anger. Following that arrest, the U.S. Navy also banned all drinking of alcohol by its personnel in Japan, on and off base, and restricted off-base activities.
Police said Thursday that Kenneth Shinzato, who is also a former Marine, is now the prime suspect in the murder and rape of the 20-year-old woman whose body was found last month, three weeks after she disappeared after messaging her boyfriend that she was going for a walk in Uruma City on Okinawa’s eastern coast. An autopsy on the decomposed body could not determine the cause of death.
Okinawa police said the suspect hit the woman on the head with a club, dragged her into the weeds and raped her, while strangling her and stabbing her with a knife. Kyodo News service reported that Shinzato told police that he drove around for a few hours to find an assault target.
Police arrested Shinzato, 32, on May 19 after he told investigators where they could find the woman’s body in a forest. He was expected to be formally charged with abandonment later Thursday.
Born Kenneth Gadson, reportedly from New York City, he is married to a Japanese woman and used her family name, Shinzato, instead of his own. He worked on Kadena Air Base as an employee for a contractor that provides services to U.S. bases on Okinawa.
Outspoken Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who has demanded that the central government do more to reduce the military burden on the southern islands, called the crime “extremely inhuman and dastardly” and “unforgivable.” Okinawans have put up with crime for years, with “resentment almost exceeding its limit,” Onaga said in a statement, according to Japanese media.
Tensions are already high over a plan to relocate a Marine Corps air station to a less-populated part of Okinawa. About half of about 50,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan are on the island, and many residents resent the burden they bear for the defense of Japan and the region. They want the air station to be moved off Okinawa all together.
The Futenma relocation is part of a broader plan to reduce the impact of U.S. military bases that was triggered by the 1995 gang rape of a teenage girl by three American servicemen. The latest murder has sparked calls for a further reduction of American bases, as well as a revision of the Status of Forces Agreement, under which the handover of suspects accused of crimes while on duty or on base to Japanese authorities is not compulsory.
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