U.S. sailor reported stable after shooting
HIROSHIMA, Japan — A 21-year-old sailor remained hospitalized Sunday evening after being shot as he walked in an entertainment district street around 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric S. Heinz, a preventive medicine corpsman at Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station’s Branch Medical Clinic, was in stable condition Sunday evening, said Marine Capt. Stewart Upton, base spokesman.
Sought for questioning in connection with the shooting was a 5-foot-4 man between ages 25 and 30, said a Hiroshima Prefectural Police spokesman. The man spoke Japanese and at the time of the shooting drove a two- or three-year-old black Nissan Cedric, the spokesman said.
Two other U.S. servicemembers — a Marine and another sailor — were with Heinz when he was shot. Their names were not disclosed, Upton said, because the crime remains under investigation. “They were not injured in any way,” he said.
Heinz had surgery Sunday afternoon at Hiroshima Prefectural Hospital, the police spokesman said, “to remove a 10-millimeter-long bullet from his left side waist area.”
Citing a preliminary police investigation, the spokesman said it appears that as Heinz and the other two walked in Nagarekawa District, a driver shot the sailor through his car’s open passenger-side window.
As the wounded sailor lay on the ground, the driver got out of his car, pointed a gun at the other two servicemembers and spoke to them in Japanese. “He then returned to his car and drove away,” the Hiroshima police spokesman said.
“His hair was short with a tight perm and he was wearing a black sweatshirt and beige pants,” the spokesman said.
Unknown Sunday afternoon, Hiroshima police said, was whether Heinz and the man were acquainted. The police said they suspect the crime was “a random shooting.”
That alone is unusual in Japan, which has among the world’s toughest gun-control laws and lowest gun crime rates.
Gun owners undergo rigorous screening, according to Join Together, a Boston University School of Public Health initiative working against gun violence. In effect, only police can have handguns; owning a rifle or shotgun requires completing a complicated licensing procedure. Japan averages less than 30 murders by guns a year, compared with almost 11,000 in the U.S., the organization states on its Web site at www.jointogether.org/gv/issues/problem/global/.
Upton said the air station’s Naval Criminal Investigative Service is coordinating with Hiroshima police, who “have jurisdiction in the conduct of this investigation.”
Hiroshima, about 45 minutes by train from the base, is a popular destination for Marines and sailors at Iwakuni.
It’s also been the scene of Japanese gang violence targeting U.S. Marines. Stars and Stripes reported in October 1998, for instance, that Hiroshima police arrested six motorcycle gang members accused of being among a group of 50 — mostly teenagers — who surrounded and assaulted four Marines from Iwakuni.