Seven people were found dead in a car in Saitama Prefecture early Tuesday, minutes before two more bodies were discovered under similar circumstances in a vehicle in Kanagawa Prefecture, in what appeared to be group suicides linked to the Internet, police said.
In both incidents, the occupants of the two vehicles appeared to have committed suicide through carbon monoxide poisoning, burning briquettes in portable cooking stoves to release the gas.
Only two weeks earlier, four people who apparently met through the Internet were found dead in a rented car about four kilometers away from where the car in Saitama was found. They, too, appeared to have committed suicide through carbon monoxide poisoning.
Police investigators said there was a possibility the victims in the latest incidents had also met through a suicide-related site on the Internet. If the incidents were related to the Internet, it would be the largest group suicide of its kind in Japan, police said.
Police said a Saitama Prefectural Police officer found seven young people dead in a rented van in Minano, Saitama Prefecture, at about 6:10 a.m. on Tuesday, after a friend of one of the victims contacted law enforcers saying that one of his friends might have committed suicide.
One of the victims had apparently sent a cell phone e-mail to the friend hinting that he was going to kill himself.
Inside the vehicle were the bodies of four men and three women. All of the victims were thought to be either in their teens or 20s. Police found four portable clay cooking stoves inside the car, each of which contained burned briquettes. The windows of the vehicle were sealed with vinyl tape.
Five minutes after the first vehicle was found, police found two young women dead in a vehicle at the entrance of a shrine in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, in almost exactly the same circumstances. Police concluded they had committed suicide after finding two portable cooking stoves containing briquettes inside the vehicle.
One of the victims was aged 21 and the other was 27, police said. A note found after the discovery of the women’s bodies read, “We planned this together. This is not a criminal incident.”
Police said that the number of group suicides of young people who have met through the Internet has soared since it was reported in February last year that a man and two women gassed themselves to death using a portable cooking stove in Saitama Prefecture.
Police statistics show that 34 people died in 12 group suicide incidents last year. This year, 11 people had died in five incidents as of June. On Oct. 5, four women aged between 21 and 34 tried to commit suicide by burning briquettes in the Tokyo suburb of Okutama, but police managed to arrive in time and save them.
Japanese “suicide applicant” sites aimed at people thinking of taking their lives are common. They contain information from around Japan on methods of committing suicide and places to do it. When several people who want to commit suicide appear, they reportedly choose a time and place, and decide on the members who will take part.
The comments people write include statements and questions like “Are there any women who would like to help and die with me?” “I want to know a sure way of dying peacefully,” and “I’ve got the car and the briquettes ready.”
The four people who committed suicide together in September reportedly exchanged messages on the Internet saying they were looking for others to die with them.