Suspect stood meters behind Abe during speech

Still image from third-party footage
Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seen at the start of a stump speech in Nara City on Friday. A man believed to be the alleged attacker Tetsuya Yamagami is seen carrying a shoulder bag behind Abe.

NARA — In the final stages of campaigning for the House of Councillors election Friday, a stump event in Nara City ended in tragedy when former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was fatally shot at close range.

I was among the press pack covering the event for The Yomiuri Shimbun as Japan’s longest-serving prime minister spoke to voters in front of Yamato-Saidaiji Station to drum-up support for a Liberal Democratic Party candidate.

Abe arrived at 11:20 a.m., about 10 minutes after the candidate had started speaking. Dressed in a white shirt and navy blue jacket, Abe got out of his car and waved to members of the public, and was greeted with loud cheers.

The terminal station is often the location of stump speeches during election campaigns. Speakers were positioned in an area on the north side of the station Friday, and security personnel surrounded the small podium.

I was holding a camera in the press area opposite the speakers, occasionally taking notes. Through the lens, I could clearly see Abe nodding as he listened to the candidate.

The former prime minister took to the podium at 11:29 a.m. “Hello, everyone. My name is Shinzo Abe,” he said, introducing himself and waving to the hundreds of people gathered at the station.

At the start of the speech, a man believed to be the attack suspect Tetsuya Yamagami was seen standing on a sidewalk behind Abe about 15 meters away, carrying a black bag and wearing a gray short-sleeved shirt.

A video taken by a person at the scene showed the man clapping when Abe took to the podium.

About two minutes into the speech, the man stepped into the road and was seen about 7 to 8 meters behind Abe while holding a black object. No one tried to stop him.

“Instead of thinking of reasons why he can’t …” Abe had been saying when I heard a loud “bang” as if a firework had been set off, and white smoke was visible.

As Abe looked back in the direction of the noise, another gunshot-like sound was heard.

At first, I didn’t understand what had happened, but when I came to myself, Abe was no longer standing on the podium.

Abe was lying on the ground, his shirt stained in blood.

“Ambulance! Ambulance!” a member of his team shouted as people rushed toward him. “Is there a doctor here? Please help!” another cried.

“He’s a treasure of Japan. What has been done to him?” a middle-aged man shouted angrily.

While people were giving him a cardiac massage, Yamagami was being held down on the ground on a nearby street by people who appeared to be security personnel.

Yamagami, a 41-year-old Nara resident, did not resist. He was arrested immediately on suspicion of attempted murder.

Members of the emergency services arrived at 11:37 a.m., and an ambulance left the scene shortly before noon.

“Make way [for the ambulance],” an LDP staffer shouted at the crowd.

The words of a politician were silenced by the sound of gunfire. The shock and anger will never fade.