Wrong place/wrong time shootings are not new in America


Mistaken address shootings echo killing of Japanese teen 30 years ago

The rash of shootings of young people, both white and black, who had the misfortune to walk up to the wrong house ( 16-year-old Ralph Yarl), drive into the wrong driveway ( 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis) or got into the wrong car in a parking lot ((cheerleaders in uniform, Heather Roth and Payton Washington), is not, as The Washington Post reminds us today, new. (reprinted in it’s entirety below)

Mistaken address shootings echo killing of Japanese teen 30 years ago

It was October 1992 in Baton Rouge when Yoshihiro Hattori knocked on the wrong door. Expecting a Halloween party, the 16-year-old Japanese exchange student was instead shot by the owner of the house he had mistakenly arrived at, 30-year-old Rodney Peairs. He died on the way to the hospital.

Hattori’s death brought unprecedented international attention to the United States’ culture of gun violence. This was the killing of a well-liked foreign teenager, dressed incongruously in a white tuxedo to look like John Travolta, simply because he mistook one house for another. It shook the global understanding of U.S. gun deaths, which had simplistically been linked to gangs and crime in the minds of many foreigners.

Masaichi and Mieko Hattori, parents of Hattori, soon became figures in an international campaign to stop American gun violence. They pushed President Bill Clinton to adopt stricter gun-control measures and used the money received in a $653,000 award in a wrongful-death case to set up the Yoshi Coalition to continue that fight for decades.

“The life of my son will never be back,” Mieko Hattori told The Washington Post before they met Clinton in 1993. “But I don’t want his death to be in vain.”

More than 30 years later, however, the shooting of several young Americans in similar situations over recent days is a reminder of just how little has changed in U.S. gun culture, despite the personal anguish of the Hattori family and the persistent shock and horror at American gun deaths seen around the world.

In Kansas City, Mo., 16-year-old Ralph Yarl was shot twice late Thursday after ringing the doorbell of the wrong house while trying to pick up his siblings. (Yarl survived the shooting, despite one bullet striking his head). Just days later, 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis was shot dead in Upstate New York after pulling into the wrong driveway while looking for their friend’s house.

These contemporary shootings echo what happened to Hattori three decades before. One big difference, however, was that Hattori was a Japanese citizen who had arrived in Louisiana only a few months prior.

Hattori was on his way to a party for exchange students with the young son in the family he was staying with, Webb Haymaker. They knocked on the door of the house that they presumed was hosting the party, but when a woman opened a side door and then slammed the door, they walked away, realizing they had the wrong home. At this point, Peairs opened the door, armed with a revolver after hearing his wife’s concern, and shouted “Freeze!” Hattori, seemingly confused by the English-language command, stepped forward to greet him. Peairs squeezed the trigger.

“The gun was a Magnum 44 known powerful enough to kill a lion by one blow,” an account of the tragedy on the Yoshi Coalition website reads. “The bullet penetrated Yoshi’s chest. Yoshi, bleeding heavily, died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.”

The death of a young Japanese man in these circumstances drew enormous media coverage in Japan, where gun violence is rare. Japan has some of the world’s strictest laws on gun ownership. Most shootings in Japan are associated with organized crime, with only a handful of deaths in the country of 125 million.

This was the early 1990s, a period of greater interest in gun control in many countries. A series of violent shootings in Britain and Australia around this time later led to major changes in those countries’ gun control legislation, with the government collecting weapons from owners and clamping down on illegal ownership.

The death of Hattori presented a different side of gun violence: That of killings due to mistakes. When his killer was later acquitted of criminal charges by a Baton Rouge jury following the argument he stood his ground in defense of his home, it furthered views that the United States had been driven mad by weapons.

Masaichi and Mieko Hattori flew to Louisiana to try to understand his death. The following year, they presented Clinton with a petition signed by 1.7 million people in Japan that called on the U.S. leader “to reassess the easy availability of guns” and “help end the senseless yearly slaughter of thousands of Americans and foreign visitors.”

A wrongful-death award in 1994 helped rectify some of the despair seen in Japan at the initial acquittal. “This verdict is a victory for American society,” one anchorwoman with Fuji-TV said at the time. “It shows that Americans do deal with their social problems.”

The Hattori family did more for U.S. gun control than most Americans. Last year in the Trace, a publication that covers American gun violence, Jennifer Mascia wrote that the killing of Hattori “helped unite Americans around the Brady Bill, a federal background check measure” that passed in 1993.

In addition to the Yoshi Coalition, the Hattori family also used the money they received in the wrongful-death money to set up a fund that allows U.S. students to visit Japan. So far, 30 students have undertaken the exchange, which the website describes as a chance to “get a deeper understanding of a culture where guns are not a necessity.”

But the shootings of Yarl and Gillis, among many other recent gun violence incidents, show how little has been resolved in the United States. Indeed, the political debate surrounding guns may be more intractable now than it was three decades ago.

In 2017, the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper interviewed one of Hattori’s former classmates in Japan about a shooting in Las Vegas that left 60 victims dead.

“Nothing changes,” the then-43-year-old Keisuke Nishikawa told them. “I guess these shootings will just keep going on forever.”

It’s a contrast to how in other ways, life has moved on. Haymaker, the host brother who was with Hattori the day he died and played a major role in the response, studied music  before switching paths to become a psychotherapist who specialized in working with children. He took his own life last year at the age of 46.

His parents, along with Hattori’s parents, have continued to support the debate about gun control. Five years ago, after the killing of 17 people at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Mieko Hattori spoke at a March for Our Lives rally in her home in Nagoya, Japan.

The Hattoris, now in their mid-70s, announced last year they would be stepping down from running the Yoshi Coalition. Speaking to Kyodo News on the 30th anniversary of their son’s death, they said it was up to young people to keep pushing for change.

Three things strike me about this story.

  • Yoshihiro Hattori was murdered 30 years ago and 30 years later nothing has changed; American gun culture thrives.
  • The Hattoris used the proceeds of their victorious wrongful death suit to set up the Yoshi Coalition to help stop American gun violence. That lawsuit victory led a Japanese TV commentator to say, “It shows that Americans do deal with their social problems.” How little that commentator knew about American culture.
  • And in case you missed it in the article, the shooter was acquitted. But what was not in the article is this: Courtroom spectators applauded when the verdict was announced.

In the coming weeks and months America will see three more trials in which young people…unarmed young people…were shot because they went to the wrong place at the wrong time. What are the odds that in the great tradition of the American justice system, the defense will invoke one of these: “stand-your-ground,” “line in the sand,” “no duty to retreat,” or “the castle doctrine?” Pretty good, I’d say. And that’s pretty bad!

Published by Ted Block

Ted Block is a veteran “Mad Man,” having spent 45+ years in the advertising industry. During his career, he was media director of several advertising agencies, including Benton & Bowles in New York and Foote, Cone and Belding in San Francisco; account management director on clients as varied as Clorox, Levi’s and the California Raisin Advisory Board (yes, Ted was responsible for the California Dancing Raisins campaign); and regional director for Asia based in Tokyo for Foote, Cone where he was also the founding president of FCB’s Japanese operations. Ted holds a Bachelor’s degree in communications from Queens College and, before starting in advertising, served on active duty as an officer on USS McCloy (DE-1038) in the U.S. Navy. Besides writing Around the Block, Ted is also a guest columnist for the Palm Beach Post.

9 thoughts on “Wrong place/wrong time shootings are not new in America

  1. Morning
    Did nothing happen like this in the intervening 30 years….is a weak story with two events 30 years apart….sorry


    1. Thanks for your comment.

      I’m sorry that you believe this is a “weak” story. My purpose was not to do an exhaustive survey of shootings where, as the Washington Post writes today in a follow-up story, “…innocent victims are shot by people who wrongly believe that they are under threat.” And, to partially answer the question of anything happening in the “intervening 30 years,” I again quote the Post, “While there are few statistics on these shootings, they appear to make up a very small percentage of the more than 15,000 people killed every year in the U.S. in firearm homicides.”

      Rather, my point was to juxtapose what might be the most famous of these “crimes” 30 years ago (written as “crimes” because in many [most] of these cases the perpetrator is acquitted) with what’s happening now, again quoting the Post, “And yet in just six days in April, four young people across the U.S. were shot…for being at what someone decided was the wrong place.” As I wrote, “Yoshihiro Hattori was murdered 30 years ago and 30 years later nothing has changed; American gun culture thrives.”


  2. It IS going to get worse.
    Many new laws stating open carry and concealed weapons carry without a permit will give people the opportunity to shoot at the slightest provocation, real or imagined.
    We are going NUTS with our guns.


  3. Glad I live in Canada, but for how long? I live in Alberta, where our conservative (Republican) provincial government is fighting the federal government about trying to control automatic wespons and worse. In the last few years Albertans have shot innocent people for no reason other thsn they didn’t like the way they looked. Some were convicted, others got off. Certain Albertans want us to become independent from Canada, while others want us to join the USA. I have no idea whst they are thinking.
    I can only hope Americans wake up, and criminalize gun ownership — for any reason.


  4. Figured it out a few years ago. My choices are limited because I only speak English, so I figure New Zealand. A university mate of mine moved there, and loves it. It has problems of its own, of course, but I know of nowhere on Earth that does not have problems. But gun violence is not one of them. She does not fear sending her kids to school and never having them come home because some ass decided to go ballistic.
    The two drawbacks to New Zealand, I cannot afford to move there, and the small government pension I live on might not be enough to afford the cost of living. And while I have no problem packing up and moving, my spouse is a homebody. She has lived in Alberta all her life. She doesn’t think she can just up and leave. And I cannot leave her behind.


    1. Portugal is the current go-to place for expats. Language is less a problem as more people speak English then say, Spain. Portuguese friends tell the reason is American movies; they’re subtitled in Portugal and dubbed in Spain. It’s amazing how well you can learn a foreign language if you watch enough subtitled films.

      Lisbon is magical with its hills, like San Francisco, its trams/cable cars, like San Francisco and its bridge, an absolute clone of the Golden Gate Bridge. Living is relatively inexpensive, dining out is great and reasonable and the wine is fantastic. If not Lisbon, then Porto at the mouth of the River Douro and the jumping off point for the most beautiful wine countries in the world (and I lived in Northern California adjacent to Napa and Sonoma for 40+ years). And if you’re a beach person (although the fact that you live in Alberta would suggest not), Northern Europeans have been making coastal Portugal their summer retreats for years. (OK, you might have to bone up on your German if you opt for the coast. LOL!)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: