I was there on that day, in that subway. And I remember the events as if they happened yesterday.A few days ago my phone started to ring with a flurry of texts and emails. It had to do with doomsday cult leader Shoko Asahara being executed in Japan. You might remember the deadly 1995 terrorist attack where cult members released the nerve gas sarin in Tokyo subways. Asahara was the mastermind of that attack. 13 people died and thousands suffered ill effects.
I was there.
I was there on that day, in that subway. And I remember the events as if they happened yesterday.
In March of 1995, an unknown attorney to our agency made an appointment to meet with me at our corporate office. He was interviewing private investigators for one of his best clients, a large pharmaceutical company. They wanted an investigator to travel to Tokyo, Japan to conduct interviews for a highly contested upcoming trial in Orange County.
The attorney explained that his client was willing to pay for first-class airfare and hotel accommodations in a 5-star hotel. The assignment would be totally funded for a 10 day period. That was ample time for an experienced investigator to track down witnesses, interview current employees and memorialize the findings into declarations given under the penalty of perjury. A very sweet assignment indeed.
During our interview, the attorney was very inquisitive as to our experience with the interview and interrogation process. We explained my initial training took place at the Department of Justice while at the academy as a new special agent. Upon graduation, I was given undercover assignments throughout the western part of the United States. Later in my career, I was selected to teach the art of “interview and interrogation” at the Federal academies and in sixty foreign countries as part of the International Training program for the Departments of Justice and Treasury.
After a brief pause, the attorney looked me square in the eye and said, “Looks like you are on your way to Tokyo.”
A few weeks later on March 19, 1995, we landed in Tokyo. We arrived at our hotel in the late evening. We tossed and turned but, given the time-change, efforts to sleep met with limited success.
At 6:00 am on March 20, I was one of a few customers in the hotel restaurant where I indulged in a fresh pot of coffee. That day, I needed to meet with an attorney in another city. (The Japanese transportation system had drastically changed. I was there previously during the early 1970’s, when I had traveled to Japan on official government business.) To reach my destination, I thought it best to get to the subway system early and make my way to the designated meeting location.
I never made that appointment.
Coughs, choking and screams surrounded me. People began to panic from the unknown.The subway car I was riding came to an abrupt stop. Then silence. Then coughs, choking and screams surrounded me. People began to panic from the unknown. Everyone was running out of the subway upstairs to the sunlight. Some people were unconscious while others were on the ground, withering in pain.
Physically, I felt fine. Intellectually, I didn’t have a clue as to what was happening.
Only later did we find out that the cult leader had instructed his followers to release deadly gases in the subway. I was actually traveling next to one of the trains that got gassed. Fortunately, I was able to exit the subway car, race up from underneath the ground and breath air not contaminated by the deadly gases.
The attack definitely rocked the nation of Japan and its people. So much for the country’s well-known image for being safe and orderly.
My concern for safety was paramount. The client requested that I return immediately to the United States as Asahara and his gang had promised more terror.
I left the next day.
When I returned to my office, I was given a copy of the Orange County Register article with the headline Near miss for local investigator. That was an understatement for sure.