Taipei is normally one of the safest cities in the world, whether in the daytime or night, but it was shook by a horrifying murder took place earlier this week in broad daylight. A four-year-old girl, riding a bike alongside her mother on her way to meet up with her siblings and a grandparent Monday, was suddenly attacked by a deranged man with a cleaver, chopped, and decapitated.
That is not an exaggeration or a typo.
The murder was also completely random, adding to the senselessness of the crime. The killer, a 33-year-old unemployed man, had bought the cleaver earlier and was actually walking around the neighborhood before spotting the girl and attacking her, whilst pushing off the mother. The crime infuriated Taiwanese so much that a crowd gathered around a police station and attacked the killer as he was taken out to be transferred to another station.
The mother had to be severely traumatized to not only lost her daughter but actually see it happen in front of her, but incredibly she had the mental and emotional strength to issue a poignant plea for the government to deal with societal problems so that people like her child’s murderer would not exist, rather than issue any cries for vengeance.
Suspects in these kinds of random killings lose their minds temporarily, and no law can resolve this, the mother said, urging the government to address the problem at its roots.
“I hope that we can address family and education issues so that people like this will disappear from our society,” the mother said. “I hope our children and grandchildren will never see someone like this again.”
There is another dimension to this crime regarding the death penalty. Because the public has been so incensed by this murder, many people have started agitating for the death penalty, which Taiwan has, and a civil society organization is planning to hold a rally to push for enforcement of the death penalty later next week. I feel that mass outrage might cloud the issue and make Taiwanese, especially the media, fall into the trap of simplistic thinking without really understanding the bigger picture. Taiwanese media is notoriously sensationalistic and there is a risk they will over-sensationalize this crime.
What makes this terrible act more stunning is that it happened in my old area Neihu, a relatively well-off district in the north of Taipei with a mix of quiet residential neighborhoods and tech and business companies. It is incomprehensible that a street I had walked on many times was the scene of such a ghastly act. Being in Hong Kong now, there’s some distance between me and the crime scene but I’d feel worse if I was back in Taipei.
The senselessness of this crime didn’t just end with the murder because two supposedly copycat attacks took place the very next day, with a policeman getting stabbed on a subway station by a guy who was walking around with a steak knife in his hand and a maintenance worker slashed with a hacksaw by another guy. Then in 2014, there was a savage knife attack on the Taipei subway train when a guy stabbed four people to death and wounded 24 others.
What is frightening is that the attackers were all seriously disturbed individuals or suffering from mental illnesses, like the murderer who killed the little girl. These weren’t hardened criminals or gang members but people who were alienated and seething with rage. I’m certainly not defending them of course, but it is clear that more policing and harsher crime punishments is not exactly the only solution. Sentencing them to death may seem understandable and feel “good” to some people in terms of seeing justice done, and there might be a deterrence factor, but they may still not prevent future attacks by similar people. The mother of the poor little girl was right. What is needed is for the authorities to work on and support measures to improve society so that you won’t have men running around with hate and murderous intentions in their hearts and cleavers in their hands.