2 Students Near Death After Carjack Shooting

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Two 19-year-old Marymount College students--one a Japanese national and the other a U.S. citizen who grew up in Japan--were on life support Saturday and not expected to survive after being shot by a gunman during a carjacking outside a San Pedro supermarket.

In a crime that sparked immediate outrage in Japan, Takuma Ito and Go Matsuura were each shot in the head with a handgun about 11 p.m. Friday as they got out of a white 1994 Honda Civic in the parking lot of a Ralphs supermarket at Capitol Drive and Western Avenue, said Los Angeles police spokesman Don Cox.

The gunman drove off in the car, which has an "I Love NY" bumper sticker and California license plate number 3GPM186.

Police said they are searching for the car but have few leads on the gunman. Anyone with more information should call detectives at (213) 485-2129, or (213) 485-2504 nights and weekends.

Ito and Matsuura were in extremely critical condition at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, but have remained on life support systems while family members of the two young men were en route from Japan.

College President Thomas McFadden, who paid several visits to the hospital Saturday, said Ito is a Japanese citizen from Sakura in Chiba prefecture, east of Tokyo, and Matsuura is a U.S. citizen, although police said he grew up in Japan. Both were freshmen.

"It's the first time anything like this has happened at this college," McFadden said. "It's a small community and a close community and we're just in a state of shock."

Flags were at half-staff Saturday at the small secluded campus, where news of the deaths spread quickly. Marymount is a two-year liberal arts college on the affluent Palos Verdes Peninsula with a spectacular view of the ocean and 1,100 students, more than 25% of whom are from foreign countries. The largest number of the school's international students come from Japan. Friday was the last day of classes before spring break.

"The incident has scared a lot of people," said Tomotake Maruyama, 21, a freshman at Marymount. "It makes me want to transfer. . . . They were very good students, very nice and so kind."

The Ralphs parking lot Saturday was filled with members of the Japanese news media, which featured the shootings prominently on broadcasts today. The shootings are the latest incidents of violence involving Japanese in the United States.

"This is huge news," said Takayuki Yamauchi, a Los Angeles-based correspondent for Nippon Television Network--one of several Japanese reporters covering the story. "We have been very concerned about violence here, especially with guns."

In October, 1992, a 16-year-old Japanese exchange student in Baton Rouge, La., was fatally shot when he went to the wrong house looking for a Halloween party. The man who answered the door said "Freeze!" but the youth, Yoshihiro Hattori, did not understand the term.

Rodney Peairs, 40, was acquitted of manslaughter because he said he mistook Hattori for an intruder. The case drew worldwide attention as an example of the consequences of lax gun control in the United States.

NHK, the semi-governmental radio and TV network in Japan, which led its noon broadcast today with the shootings, reported that Mieko Hattori, the mother of Yoshihiro Hattori, said in Nagoya:

"There is no word but regrettable that once again students from Japan have been killed with pistols. The Japanese government should take some kind of measure, like instructing students going overseas how to react if they are involved in an incident."

After their son was killed, the Hattoris launched a campaign to appeal to the United States to ban the possession of handguns. Their campaign gained nationwide attention in Japan. During a visit to Japan during an economic summit in July, President Clinton phoned the couple to express his sorrow over Yoshihiro's death.

NHK reported that 27 Japanese were killed in overseas incidents last year. More than half of the overseas incidents involved guns.

NHK reported that both Marymount students came to Los Angeles in August to study art-related subjects. They became friends after meeting in Los Angeles.

Rumiko Ito, Takuma's mother, was shown on NHK saying: "When he left, he said he knew there was a possibility of getting involved in an incident like this one. But he was going to study in America that he liked so much. He did feel an uneasiness, but his hopes and dreams more than overwhelmed the uneasiness."

Ito's mother said her son had told her he was making it a point to use his car as much as possible and never walk anywhere alone.

McFadden said the issue of crime in the United States comes up when dealing with the families of prospective students from overseas, who pay about $17,000 a year in tuition, room and board and other fees. The college has an extensive English-as-a-second-language program, and emphasizes small classes and personalized education to help prepare students for transfer to four-year institutions.

"Certainly the parents are aware of some incidents that have happened in the U.S. with international students," McFadden said, "but we try to convince them it's safe to be in Rancho Palos Verdes and the community here."

At the hospital, students and friends kept a constant vigil Saturday.

Fukuda Kozo, an executive of JAL Trading America, said he was asked to make a trip to the hospital to check on the condition of Ito, whose father works for a subsidiary of the same company in Japan.

"They called us from Japan and asked us to find out what had happened," Kozo said as he stood in the lobby with two other associates. "All they have told us so far is that it is very serious. It seems very sad."

Times staff writers Paul Lieberman, Patrick J. McDonnell and Deborah Schoch in Los Angeles and Sam Jameson in Tokyo contributed to this story.

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