Hostage who died in standoff near Tokyo was beloved doctor, community ‘hero’

Doctor Junichi Suzuki, center, takes part in the Tokyo Paralympic Torch Relay, as seen in this photo taken at the Asaka Chuo Park Athletics Stadium in Asaka, Saitama Prefecture on August 19, 2021. (Government Image Saitama Prefectural website)

A man who died in a hostage situation at a home in Fujimino city, Saitama prefecture, north of Tokyo, was a beloved doctor whose loss was felt by many.

At around 9 p.m. on January 27, a man with what is believed to be a shotgun took 44-year-old Junichi Suzuki hostage as the doctor visited his home in Fujimino’s Oimusashino district. Saitama Prefectural Police stormed the house and took the suspect into custody shortly before 8 a.m. on January 28, about 11 hours after the clash began. Suzuki was taken to hospital, where he was confirmed dead. Prefectural police arrested Hiroshi Watanabe, 66, for attempted murder.

Nine years ago, Suzuki opened a home health care clinic focusing on community medicine in Fujimi City, Saitama Prefecture, near Fujimino. Doctors who had known Suzuki to rush to treat patients with COVID-19 and other illnesses expressed shock at his death.

“Suzuki always invested everything in his work and had his patients’ best interests at heart. He was a community hero. Our loss is immeasurable,” one said.

“He was a pioneer of home medical care in this community,” said Masakazu Koyama, secretary general of the Higashiiruma Medical Association.

Suzuki, who specializes in respiratory medicine, graduated from Jikei University School of Medicine. He then worked in various institutions, including a general hospital, and opened his own clinic in 2013. Ophthalmologist and president of the Higashiiruma Medical Association, Haruhisa Sekiya, still remembers the day when nine years ago, Suzuki came to introduce himself by joining the medical association.

He wasn’t wearing a suit, but a white coat with a stethoscope hanging from his neck as he said, “I’m going to do home care. I never know when I will be called to someone’s house. Sekiya said he felt Suzuki was ready to really stick with the residents.

Investigators investigate the area around the suspect’s home where the hostage-taking took place in Fujimino, Saitama prefecture on January 28, 2022. Adult diapers were seen strewn outside the house. (Mainichi/Naotsune Umemura)

According to the medical association, Suzuki had about 300 patients in Fujimino, Fujimi and the city of Miyoshi. He not only conducted medical consultations, but organized evacuation drills with patients “so that he could save patients with incurable diseases in the event of a disaster.” His commitment to his patients was felt through his efforts, such as simulating power outages and performing medical consultations using car power.

In 2021, Sekiya took over the ophthalmological treatment of one of Suzuki’s patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The records and other documents Suzuki kept on her included the patient’s life purpose, as well as detailed requests from the patient’s family. “There are no doctors who go as far as him,” Sekiya said. “It was as if his compassion for his patients radiated from these documents.”

Suzuki has also put itself on the front lines of the battle against the coronavirus. In the summer of 2021, as the fifth wave of the coronavirus overwhelmed the country’s healthcare system, Suzuki accepted a request from a public health center to provide home care for 38 people – which was most local patients. He visited his patients twice a day, once during the day and once at night, as he lamented that his patients would die if circumstances persisted.

The Higashiiruma Medical Association received calls from patients upset over Suzuki’s death, saying, “What are we supposed to do now that a great doctor like him has passed? Sekiya, thinking of the approximately 300 patients and their families that Suzuki has been dedicated to, said, “We want to support them so we don’t lose what (Suzuki) has built.”

(Japanese original by Shota Harumashi and Hironori Tsuchie, Tokyo City News Department)

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