Misawa teacher indicted in shrine thefts
March 2, 2003
An elementary school teacher from Misawa Air Base in northern Japan has been indicted in connection with the theft of religious items from several area shrines.
Christian Gray, 33, remains in police custody in Noheji, 30 miles north of Misawa, where he has been held since he was arrested Feb. 3.
The Aomori public prosecutor’s office referred Gray’s case to the Aomori District court Feb. 21 and will now decide whether Gray will stand trial for the offenses.
Japanese police said during investigations that began after his arrest, Gray admitted to police he stole two religious deities from a shrine in Tohoku, a community nine miles north of the base.
Police said thefts of religious items have been reported at several shrines since last May in the communities of Rokkasho and Nogawa, all within a 25-mile radius of Misawa.
Gray admitted to police he took two religious deity statues from a shrine near the base earlier this month.
After his arrest, investigators have been questioning Gray in connection with similar thefts reported at other area shrines and temples.
“He has admitted connection to other thefts that have occurred in the area, but his memory is hazy, so details are still being investigated,” said Noheji police spokesman Katsuo Yasuda.
Gray has secured the services of Japanese attorney Noriko Omokawa of Towada, Japan, 12 miles west of Misawa. Omokawa did not return repeated telephone calls.
Last week, Noheji police showed news media about 30 items that were found during a search of Gray’s off-base home in Misawa. The items are believed to be the ones taken from area shrines and temples.
Items included a lion mask, candlestick holders, two paper lanterns, ceramic and wooden deities, a mirror and a large painting of a horse.
Gray, a special education teacher at Misawa’s Sollars Elementary School, remains on leave-without-pay status, said Peter Grenier, chief of staff for the DODDS Japan district superintendent’s office at Yokota Air Base. Gray was in his second year at Sollars.
Yasuda said Gray told investigators he’s interested in old Japanese figurines and has a collection of his own that he had purchased.
Gray came to the attention of police after a resident in Tohoku observed his car in the vicinity of Shoichi Inari Daimyo shrine the night of Feb. 2.
Police traced Gray’s license plate number to his Misawa address, and inside his car they found two 12-inch ceramic statues of fox deities earlier reported missing from the shrine.
Police took Gray to the shrine, where he admitted he took the foxes, both valued at 10,000 yen, or $87.
— Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.