Picture of classroom out of control emerges in wake of bullied 6th grader's suicide
MAEBASHI -- Two weeks since the suicide of a sixth grader in Kiryu, Gunma Prefecture, a picture of a classroom out of control has begun to take shape.
Akiko Uemura, 12, who was found hanged by a scarf in her room on Oct. 23, transferred from an elementary school in Aichi Prefecture when her family moved to Kiryu in October 2008. It was after her Filipino mother visited the school on parents' visitation day in 2009 that Akiko's classmates began commenting on her appearance.
After Akiko began sixth grade this past April, classmates started saying that she smelled bad and asked her if she bathed. Akiko appealed to her parents to let her transfer to another school, saying that she was willing to walk to school no matter how far. Her parents sought advice from the school on numerous occasions, and considered moving elsewhere once Akiko finished elementary school.
In late September, Akiko's classmates began to sit as far away from her as possible at lunchtime despite their homeroom teacher's admonitions to stay in designated groups. According to Akiko's mother, Akiko asked a classmate to eat lunch with her in mid-October, only to be refused.
On Oct. 19 and 20, Akiko stayed home from school. Her homeroom teacher called her at home to encourage her to come to school on the next day, as the class was going on a field trip. On Oct. 21, however, some of Akiko's classmates questioned her about why she only came to school when there was a special event and whether she was otherwise playing hooky, and Akiko came home in tears.
Akiko stayed home from school again on Oct. 22, and when her homeroom teacher visited her home that evening -- when her parents happened to be at work -- to report on the school's decision to abolish lunchtime groupings, no one answered the door. On Oct. 23, Akiko woke up around 9 a.m. and had breakfast. When her mother looked into her room around noon, she was hanging from a curtain rail by a scarf that she had been knitting for her mother.
No suicide note has been found, but after her funeral on Oct. 26, manga entitled "Friends Are Great!" that Akiko appears to have drawn before her suicide was found. In a letter addressed to Akiko's former classmate in Aichi that was found on Oct. 29, Akiko wrote: "I'm going to Osaka for junior high. So we might pass through Aichi. I'll visit you if I can!"
Meanwhile, the faces of 15 classmates found in a photo taken during an overnight school trip when Akiko was in fifth grade were crossed out with what looked like ballpoint pen, and in response to a question from an autograph book asking what she wanted if she were granted one wish, she had written, "make school disappear."
At Akiko's elementary school, located among farms and new residential areas, the sixth grade students were divided into two homerooms. One classmate said, "There was a group of students who bullied Akiko. She looked really sad when they said things like 'Get of the way' and 'Go away.' No one tried to stop them."
Another classmate said that other students had no choice but to go along with the bullying. "There were a few people who were at the center of the group, and the other students were too scared to defy them. The class was in chaos."