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Stray bullet that struck Okinawa farmer’s shed came from Marine Corps firing range

Empty shell casings form a pile beneath an M240B medium machine gun in August 2013 after training at Range 10 on Okinawa.

BRANDON SUHR/U.S. MARINE CORPS

By MATTHEW M. BURKE AND AYA ICHIHASHI | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 14, 2018

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A large caliber bullet that struck an Okinawan mango farmer’s shed in June came from a Marine Corps firing range, Japanese officials announced this week.

The incident occurred June 21 in Sukuta, Nago, adjacent to the northern Marine base Camp Schwab’s Range 10.

The incident led to condemnation by local politicians on the small island prefecture along with a criminal complaint that sought to charge then-III Marine Expeditionary Force commander Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson and others with attempted murder.

The bullet was fired by III MEF, the Okinawa Defense Bureau, which represents Japan’s Defense Ministry on the island, said Friday. The agency cited Okinawa Prefectural Police and U.S. military admissions that came Wednesday.

“After a thorough investigative process, the bullet was identified to have originated from a unit conducting routine training on Range 10,” Marine officials said in a statement Friday to Stars and Stripes. “We take the safety of all our ranges very seriously.”

During the live-fire exercise, a Marine “did not follow the Range 10 regulations and procedures,” defense bureau spokesman Masashi Katsuren said Friday.

In a rare rebuke, the bureau announced that live-fire drills using .50-caliber ammunition would be halted until the U.S. military finds a “solid solution” to preventing future incidents, Katsuren said. The bureau also demanded that the U.S. raise safety standards for live-fire exercises.

No injuries were reported in the incident, which occurred sometime between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., according to police. The farmer told authorities he had come home from shopping to discover two broken windows in his shed and a 2-inch-long bullet on the floor.

Bureau officials said Camp Schwab’s Range 10, which is approximately a half-mile from the farm, was in use at the time of the incident and they had been warned about the live-fire training.

The Marines vowed to cooperate in any investigation and temporarily shuttered the range as a “precaution.”

Police conducted ballistics testing on the bullet and determined it had been recently fired, a police spokesman said at the time. They attempted to match it with bullets fired from the range, however, the investigation stalled when the Marines did not respond to requests for assistance.

On July 2, nine local legislators filed a criminal complaint with police seeking to charge Nicholson, Camp Smedley D. Butler’s headquarters and support battalion commander Col. William DePue and a group of unidentified Marines who were training at the time of the incident with destruction of property and attempted murder.

However, police did not pursue the case.

The lawmakers said they hoped the complaint would force police to conduct a more thorough investigation and compel the Marines’ participation.

Since Okinawa’s reversion to Japanese control in 1972, there have been 28 stray bullet incidents, the Okinawa Times newspaper reported in June.

The Marines temporarily shut down ranges in April 2017 after bullets struck a vehicle and a water tank at a construction site on Camp Hansen.

burke.matt@stripes.com

ichihashi.aya@stripes.com

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