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Children in Arms : Mother’s Trek Into Sea Stuns Her Neighbors

Times Staff Writers

“Her babies were everything,” one of Fumiko Kimura’s stunned Tarzana neighbors said Wednesday after hearing of the woman’s attempted ocean suicide with her two children. “She never had them out of her arms.”

As the neighbor spoke, Kimura lay in serious condition at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, and her daughter was barely alive at UCLA Medical Center. Santa Monica police said the 32-year-old woman apparently was despondent over marital problems and walked into the sea Tuesday afternoon to drown herself and the two children in a traditional manner of suicide of her native Japan.

Her son, Kazutaka, 4, died at Santa Monica Hospital on Tuesday evening after two college students pulled the three unconscious victims from the surf.

Girl Has Brain Damage

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Yuri, the 6-month-old girl, suffered brain damage and was listed in critical condition. A spokeswoman at the hospital said the infant was on a life-support system.

Their mother was to be transferred to the jail ward of Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center and held for investigation of murder and attempted murder as soon as she was well enough to be moved, Santa Monica detectives said. At St. John’s, a spokeswoman said she appeared to be improving slightly after intensive treatment for salt water ingestion.

Investigators said the woman was so troubled by marital problems, which they would not specify, that she wanted to return to Japan. Her neighbor said she apparently had no money to go there and no one with whom to leave her children.

Her husband, Isuroku Kimura, 40, also was hospitalized and placed in protective custody for 72 hours after he reportedly went into shock. Detectives said they feared he might also attempt to harm himself.

Common Form of Suicide

Some members of the Japanese community in Los Angeles noted that walking into the sea is not an unusual form of suicide in Japan and that many children have been drowned when carried into the water by their mothers.

According to Japanese scholars, parent murder of a child during a suicide attempt--called oyako-shinju-- accounts for almost 25% of all homicides in Japan. One scholar said the killing of a child during suicide traditionally is not considered murder because the family, not the individual, is the primary social unit in Japan.

In Japan, a child whose parent has committed suicide suffers a lifelong social stigma, encountering difficulty finding a job or a spouse upon reaching adulthood, scholars say.

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At the Tarzana apartment complex in the 5700 block of Etiwanda Avenue, where the family had been living since last May, the neighbor, who did not want his name used, said he and his wife had been worried about the quiet, extremely polite Japanese woman. She had “not been herself” over the apparent trouble with her husband, the neighbor said.

‘She Seemed ... Desperate’

She had never talked much, he said, and only bowed and responded when greeted. But four or five days ago, he said, she stopped speaking altogether. “She seemed as if she was very desperate,” the neighbor recalled, “but we had no idea she would try anything like that. It’s just unbelievable . . . .”

Police said she apparently took the children by bus to the beach on Tuesday rather than keep an appointment with a pediatrician. Witnesses said that after walking on the cold and dreary beach for a while, she carried Yuri and Kazutaka into the surf near the Santa Monica Pier.

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Loyola Marymount students Nancy Pontius and Kevin Sliva saw the three floating in the surf and waded out fully clothed to pull them to the beach, where joggers Brian Hirsch of Echo Park and Arthur Brock of Pacific Palisades gave them cardiopulmonary resuscitation until lifeguards arrived.

“She was just the type of person who you think would never think of such a thing,” her unidentified neighbor said Wednesday. “She lived for those children. She loved those babies so much . . . . That little boy was so beautiful and that little girl was just like a porcelain doll.”

Officers said her husband is an artist and owner of Tokyo West, a Japanese restaurant in Chatsworth. The Kimuras reportedly married about eight years ago and have lived in this country about six years.

The neighbor said Fumiko Kimura rarely asked favors. Last week, however, she offered to pay him and his wife if they would watch her children while she went to see a doctor about the insomnia that had been plaguing her for several nights. When they insisted on doing it for nothing, he said, she never brought the children around.

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“She kept to herself,” he said. “She was very humble and sweet. We liked her so much.”


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