Man kills 3 children in latest Chinese kindergarten attack

By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, August 5, 2010; 3:45 AM

BEIJING -- A knife-wielding man rampaged through a kindergarten in the eastern city of Zibo, killing three children and possibly a teacher, and wounding a dozen others in the latest in a string of strikingly similar attacks that have left about 20 people dead, parents on edge and the country grappling for answers.

Chinese authorities blocked news of the Tuesday attack, and it took 24 hours for details to filter out through media sources. The seemingly random attacks have raised questions about the state of mental health treatment in China, and the dislocation caused by two decades of explosive economic growth and dynamic change that has left many bypassed on society's margins.

The latest attack -- the sixth since March -- followed the now-familiar pattern; the assailant, identified as a man in his 20s, had no immediately known connection to the kindergarten. He apparently mingled with parents waiting to pick up their children about 4 p.m. before he began slashing victims with a two-foot-long knife.

There were conflicting reports about whether a teacher also died in the attack. A late report from Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, confirmed that three children died at the scene and three other children and four teachers were wounded, two seriously. Earlier reports from Zibo, including residents' accounts, said one adult teacher also was killed, but Xinhua did not mention any deaths of adults.

Some reports said the man fled the scene but later turned himself in to police. In a brief dispatch, Xinhua, the official state news agency, identified the attacker as Fang Jiantang, 26. A local lawyer who lives in Zibo, in Shangdong province, said the man was unemployed and lived about 100 yards from where the attack occurred.

According to Zibo residents reached by telephone, the attack occurred at the Boshan District Experimental Kindergarten in the Golden Phoenix Compound, a facility for government workers. A teacher at a nearby kindergarten said the school that was attacked had 40 to 50 students attending, most of them the children of local civil service workers.

Immediately after the attack, the government, in a stated effort to head off copycat attacks, imposed a news blackout. The local police, government offices and the hospital in Zibo all refused to give any details.

Chinese media on Thursday maintained the news blackout, with no mention in newspapers or on Web sites. The Xinhua report on casualties appeared only on the news Web site's English-language version, but not in Chinese. Officials in Zibo Thursday again refused to answer requests for more information.

Even residents of Zibo said they had difficulty finding out what happened. "News about the kindergarten is blocked," said a teacher from a nearby kindergarten. "Last night, the local news didn't cover the accident. This morning, the head of our kindergarten had a meeting in the city to discuss enhanced security. But no other news was released.

"I would be lying if I said I'm not panicked," she said. "I worry a lot in my heart. But we have two full-time security guards and two part-time security guards. Besides that, our kindergarten has already installed advanced alarm system and cameras. We have three locked gates to cross to enter our kindergarten."

The director of the nearby Golden Key Kindergarten, in the same district as the school that was attacked, said, "The tragedy happened so suddenly. Parents are scared. More than 100 kids in our kindergarten didn't come today. Their parents dare not to put their kids in kindergarten now."

A local primary school in Zibo posted a notice Wednesday saying all parents had to come into the classroom to pick up their children, according to a local hairdresser whose child attends the school.

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