Abe, 67, was pronounced dead by doctors at the Nara Medical University Hospital, at 5:03 pm local time on Friday, just over five hours after being shot while delivering a campaign speech in front of a small crowd on a street.
At the time of the shooting, Abe was speaking in support of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) candidates ahead of the Upper House elections on Sunday, which are still scheduled to go ahead. Despite resigning as Japan’s prime minister in 2020 due to health reasons, Abe remained an influential figure in the country’s political landscape and continued to campaign for the LDP.
Abe arrived at the hospital in a state of cardiac arrest and despite a team of medical staff fighting to resuscitate him, the former prime minister died from excessive bleeding caused by gunshot wounds to his neck and heart, doctors said.
Outside Abe’s residence in Tokyo on Saturday, hundreds of people gathered in the streets hoping to catch a glimpse of the car carrying his body. People of all ages told CNN they were in disbelief and saddened by Abe’s passing.
“I didn’t expect something like this would happen to someone who was the leader of Japan for such a long time – it’s usually so safe here and we don’t have gun crime,” said Takashi Uchida, 57.
Student Ryogo Uto, 18, said Abe’s death was “so sudden” that it “still hasn’t sunk in.”
“Abe was a respected leader who did many things for Japan while he was in power,” he said.
Lines of tearful mourners also gathered to place flowers and kneel at a makeshift memorial outside the Yamato-Saidaiji Station in Nara, close to where Abe was assassinated.
Suspect admits to shooting
Police have launched a murder investigation into the assassination but little is known about the suspect who was arrested at the scene of the fatal shooting on Friday.
Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, admitted to shooting Abe with a homemade gun, Nara Nishi police said during a news conference on Friday. Yamagami, who is unemployed, told investigators he holds hatred towards a certain group that he thought Abe was linked to. Police have not named the group.
Authorities later confiscated several similar handmade pistol-like items from the suspect’s apartment. Police said the suspect made the weapons himself using parts bought online.
While searching the residence, police found multiple types of guns with iron pipes wrapped in adhesive tape, NHK reported – the guns had three, five, and six such pipes as barrels. The suspect inserted bullets into the pipes, police reportedly said.
They believe the suspect used the strongest homemade weapon in the assassination, NHK added.
Japan’s National Police Agency said it would review security arrangements put in place before Friday’s shooting, according to NHK. Security was being handled by Nara prefectural police, which drew up a security plan for the former prime minister while he was in the city.
The agency said several dozen officers and security personnel from the Tokyo Metropolitan police were on duty and had reportedly watched Abe from all sides during his speech, NHK said.
Japan’s ‘JFK moment’
Abe was Japan’s longest-serving prime minister who defined the country’s politics for a generation.
He will be remembered for boosting defense spending, pushing through the most dramatic shift in Japanese military policy in 70 years, and his grand experiment designed to jolt Japan’s economy out of decades of stagnation, known as “Abenomics.”
“I think it’s going to be an equivalent of JFK’s assassination day … It’s been a day of sadness, grief, disbelief, and for me, tremendous anger. People are finding it very much hard to digest the reality,” Taniguchi said on Friday.
US President Joe Biden called Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday “to express his outrage, sadness and deep condolences” over Abe’s “tragic and violent shooting death,” the White House said.
CNN’s Junko Ogura, Pierre Meilhan, Rhea Mogul and Jake Kwon contributed reporting.