Sarin victim shares her pain

Mainichi Shimbun, October 1, 1999

Although Masato Yokoyama captured headlines on Thursday by becoming the first AUM Shinrikyo member to receive a death sentence in connection with the 1995 lethal gas attack in Tokyo, victims of the crime haven't been able to attract the same sort of attention.

Fully 41/2 years have passed since the sarin gas attack that killed 12 and sickened thousands more. The agony of that attack is still being felt. A 37-year-old female victim, who has requested anonymity, writes in a letter what she has gone through since March 20, 1995, the day of the attack. "When I heard that Yokoyama's ruling was going to be handed down, I wanted to put down on paper what I have gone through since that day.

"At Tokyo Station on March 20, 1995, I got on a Marunouchi Line train bound for Ikebukuro. I thought it was strange that everyone in the carriage seemed to be coughing. As more people started to cough, I noticed a box on the floor near the door connecting the carriages. Then tears started to flood my eyes, my nose wouldn't stop running and even though I tried to breathe, the air wouldn't flow into my lungs. Then I started to feel faint.

"After I was taken to a hospital, my throat felt as though it had been scorched. I was hospitalized for two weeks. Every time I smelled cigarette smoke, my throat would start to convulse violently. For days my tongue had a chemical taste, and I could not forget the nausea I had felt.

"At night, there were so many times that I would be awakened by nightmares. All of a sudden, I wouldn't be able to breathe and couldn't sleep. "After the attack, I became pregnant. I was filled with worry that either myself or my baby would die from breathing difficulties. I told my doctor about the fears, but he didn't understand how I felt, telling me it was merely a 'mental' problem.

"I took my baby for a dental examination. I was told that my child's teeth were enamel-deficient - a problem that had been brought on by the extreme stress I had felt during my pregnancy. I was aghast that the terror of the sarin gas attack had been passed to another generation.

"After giving birth, a tumor developed in my throat. Doctors diagnosed thyroid cancer. Although physicians said that sarin has never been linked with cancer, no one in my family has ever had the disease and I can't help but think that the lethal gas had something to do with it.

"Now, 41/2 years after the attack, I suppose I'm pretty close to being able to lead a normal life. But in the tough time surrounding these events, lacking the power to use my voice left me feeling alone and in a pit of bitter despair. When I kept feeling sick after the attack but couldn't explain how I felt, neither my friends nor my doctors could empathize with me.

"As for the Yokoyama ruling, I think that merely dispersing sarin is a crime in itself. It wouldn't have been surprising if I'd died. But I don't think that simply by handing out the ultimate punishment to someone you will be able to prevent similar occurrences.

"Actually, in the area where I live, AUM Shinrikyo is handing out pamphlets [detailing its activities]. Until AUM changes, substantially, and admits its guilt, I think that I could be a victim at any time."

Caption: A woman who has suffered from the after-effects of the sarin gas spread by AUM Shinrikyo member Masato Yokoyama writes of her experiences. On Thursday, Yokoyama became the first doomsday cult member to be given a death sentence in connection with the fatal 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack.

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