Tokyo death of Irish girl: Two arrests as American men questioned amid claims Nicola was ‘strangled’
PUBLISHED: 01:11 GMT, 27 May 2012 | UPDATED: 01:11 GMT, 27 May 2012
Two American men have been arrested by police investigating the death of Irish student Nicola Furlong in Tokyo.
U.S. State Department officials yesterday evening confirmed the arrest of two of their nationals in Japan.
The arrests came amid reports by Japan’s leading news agency, Kyodo – quickly picked up and repeated by Irish and international news websites – that Nicola, 21, may have been strangled.
A Department of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman confirmed that a police investigation into the case was under way but was unable to shed any further light on the Kyodo reports.
It had previously emerged that Nicola died after spending a night in a hotel following a concert by U.S. rapper Nicki Minaj. She was rushed to hospital but was pronounced dead.
However, the authoritative Kyodo News was last night quoted by the Agence France-Presse news service as saying that two American men were arrested by police probing her death and were being questioned.
The men, aged 19 and 23, were detained on suspicion of plying Ms Furlong’s friend, who is also Irish, with alcohol, Kyodo reported.
It is believed one of the men is a high-profile backing dancer.
The men are also being questioned in relation to the suspicious circumstances surrounding the Irish student’s death, as one of the men was with the student when she was found dead, national broadcaster NHK and Kyodo News said.
They also reported that Ms Furlong, from Curracloe, Co. Wexford, and her friend went back to the men’s upmarket hotel after the concert on Wednesday evening.
The agency reported that, in the early hours of Thursday, a hotel guest complained about a loud noise from one of the rooms.
A hotel employee went to the room and found Ms Furlong lying on the floor near the bed and the US teen standing nearby, Kyodo added.
A source told Kyodo that there were no signs that anyone else had entered the room.
It was not clear last night how much information had been relayed to Nicola’s devastated family.
Her father Andrew, mother Angie and sister Andrea were told of her death on Thursday morning. They are still struggling to come to terms with their horrific loss, according to friends.
Fr Jim Fitzpatrick from St Margaret’s Church in Curracloe said: ‘The family are very upset and the fact it happened so far away and so unexpectedly is adding further to their grief.’
The Department of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said the department was ‘liaising closely’ with the Furlong family. She refused to confirm or deny reports that Nicola had been strangled, adding that the case was ‘very sensitive’ and the family’s privacy had to be respected.
However an official from the US State Department confirmed that two American men had been arrested. The official said: ‘We are aware of the arrests of two US citizens in Japan and are providing consular assistance.
‘Due to privacy considerations, we cannot provide any additional information.
‘In general, when an US citizen is detained or arrested abroad, consular officers will work to ensure that the individual is being treated properly and has access to a list of attorneys.
‘We also stand ready to facilitate communication with friends and family.’
There has been no official comment from Japanese authorities, but details leading up to Ms Furlong’s death have begun to emerge.
Ms Furlong, a business and language student at Dublin City University, had been living in the city of Takasaki, in the Gunma prefecture of Japan, around 100km north of Tokyo, Kyodo reported, citing sources in the Japanese police.
Kyodo reported that after the concert on Wednesday night, the two Irish girls and the two Americans decided to take a taxi to the upmarket hotel where the men were staying.
When contacted by the Irish Mail on Sunday last night, management at the Keio Plaza Hotel in Tokyo referred all questions last night to police.
Police refused to comment on the tragic death.
Just hours earlier, Ms Furlong appeared carefree as she happily chatted with friends from home on Facebook.
There are also pictures on the social networking site of the young woman posing with her family at her 21st birthday celebrations months earlier.
The cultural nightmare faced by families of Western women who have died in Japan
The disappearances and murders of Western women in Japan have previously caused nightmares for their families as they struggled with language and cultural differences after travelling to the Asian nation in search of answers.
One of the most infamous killings involved 21-year-old English woman Lucie Blackman, who disappeared in 2000.
The former British Airways flight attendant had travelled to the country with her best friend on a 90-day tourist visa and got a job as a hostess at the Casablanca Club in Roppongi, one of the city’s largest entertainment districts.
On July 1, she told her roommate Louise Phillips that she was going to the beach with a customer – but she never returned.
In October, the police questioned businessman and serial rapist Joji Obara, 48, and he admitted meeting Ms Blackman but denied being involved in her disappearance.
After a long search, the police found parts of her body in a cave on a beach near Obara’s seaside home close to Tokyo in February 2001. Her remains flown back to England for burial.
It would take seven years before Obara was found guilty of dismembering Ms Blackman and abandoning her body. He is currently serving a life sentence. Her family spent tens of thousands trying to locate her and was scarred by her loss and the trial, watched by the ‘eyes of the world’, her father later said.
Obara was also convicted of murdering an Australian girl, Carita Ridgway, in 1992.
Another notorious murder of a Western woman in Japan came a few years later in 2006, when Leeds University student Lindsay Ann Hawker travelled to the country to teach English. Five months later, her body was found in a bath full of sand in a fourth-floor apartment.
Tatsuya Ichihashi, 32, was arrested in Osaka in November 2009. Ichihashi admitted raping Ms Hawker and causing her death but said he did not intend to kill her. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
In October 2011, American military wife Kelli Cribbs-Abad, 27, went missing from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa.
Her mother, Janice, travelled to Japan but said her dealings with authorities left her with more questions than answers.
‘They didn’t find anything, not even Kelli’s shoe, not a piece of her clothing – nothing,’ she said in one interview.