Seven students and two teachers died after a knife attack at a kindergarten in Shaanxi Province, Northwest China, that left 11 other children injured, the latest in a series of violent attacks on schools in China.
Huanmin Wu, 48, entered the privately-run kindergarten in Linchang Village this morning, attacking the students and teachers with a meat cleaver, killing five boys, two girls and a female teacher, according to a statement from Shaanxi's emergency office.
Wu then returned home and killed himself, officials said. His motives were unknown.
Eleven children were hospitalized with at least two reported to be in serious condition.
The attack took place on the outskirts of Hanzhong, an industrial city of about 3.7 million. Hanzhong last week deployed 2,000 police officers and security guards to patrol schools and kindergartens in the wake of a slew school attacks across the country, according to the city's website.
Today's killings marked the sixth assault on a school this year and the fifth in less than two months, fueling fears of further copycat killings. In late April, three schools were targeted in the space of three days, leaving dozens of children injured.
And in March, Zheng Minsheng, a 42-year-old doctor, stabbed eight young children to death in Fujian Province.
Authorities blamed Zheng's attack on his breaking up with a girlfriend but many sociologists argue that the killings are a product of the huge social inequalities in China's rapidly growing society and of a lack of understanding about mental illness.
"Society needs to show concern towards those who are having problems coping with economic pressures and the government needs to take more measures to make our society more equitable and fair," professor Li Lulu of China People's University said.
"But particular attention should be given to individuals who suffer from some form of mental illness so that we can prevent these extreme incidents in the future."
The school attacks have sparked fear and outrage among parents in China, many of whom only have one child because of the country's strict birth-control policies. Online reaction to today's attack was immediate.
"It's too horrible," one netizen wrote. "Why does this keep happening?"
Most local media did not cover the story, while Sina.com and several other major news websites ran pieces on the killings this morning and subsequently removed them.
"The news report about the killing has already been deleted," a netizen observed. "Obviously, the government wants to cover something."
The government has tried to tackle the problem, setting up a panel to deal specifically with school attacks and supplying school guards with long poles attached to fork-like prongs that can be used to neutralize knife-wielding attackers.
But today's killings are a brutal reminder of the serious challenge it faces.