Mieko Hattori’s message to those gathered at the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge for Saturday’s conference was simple: Stop the gun violence.
Hattori’s son, Yoshihiro “Yoshi” Hattori, a Japanese exchange student, was shot and killed in Central 20 years ago. Saturday’s conference was aimed at commemorating his life and bringing the community together to stop gun violence.
Yoshi Hattori and Webb Haymaker were on their way to a Halloween party in Central on Oct. 17, 1992, but pulled up to the wrong house, belonging to Rodney and Bonnie Peairs.
Rodney Peairs shot Yoshi Hattori that night, thinking he was an intruder. Hattori died on the way to a hospital.
Peairs was found innocent of manslaughter in 1993 but was found liable in a civil suit filed by the Hattoris.
Mieko Hattori said Saturday that she hopes the outpouring of support and the meaningful messages from both Japanese and American speakers would become the basis for change.
Masaichi Hattori, Yoshi’s father, and Mieko Hattori flew to Baton Rouge on Wednesday for the two-day conference about gun violence in the city and nationwide.
The Hattoris listened to various speakers and met with Baton Rouge Police Chief DeWayne White.
Following the film, “The Shot Heard Around the World,” a documentary about Yoshi Hattori’s death, produced and directed by Christine Choy, Mieko Hattori told those gathered that she believes Americans carry guns because many of them live in fear. She talked about Trayvon Martin, the teen allegedly shot by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., and the similarities between Martin’s death and that of her son’s.
Dawn Collins, a member of the Unitarian church, listened to the Rev. Jim Atwood, author of “America and its Guns, A Theological Expose” and head clergy for the Million Mom March.
“I’m here in support because I am a mother of two male children, 15 and 16,” Collins said. “I do fear for them as a mother. There is a whole culture of violence,” she said.
Mary Mikell, of Baton Rouge and a member of Together Baton Rouge, is a friend of the Haymaker family, Yoshi Hattori’s host family, and came to support the anti-gun violence movement.
“It’s really out of control,” Mikell said of gun violence. “People are using guns in situations that doesn’t require using a gun.”
“We need to rethink who gets a gun and temper the right to have a gun with the right to live in peace,” Mikell said.
The question on many people’s minds is, “How do you take hold of this beast and tame it?” she asked.
Mieko Hattori offered what could be a simple solution to a problem spiraling out of control.
Provide people with “a safer environment,” she said, as she asked people to join the effort for a gun-free world.
“If people feel safe, they wouldn’t carry guns,” she said.
Hattori said she wanted to do something so that her son’s life and his spirit would continue to live following his death. The Hattoris became outspoken gun control advocates. They sent a petition with more than 1 million signatures to then-President Bill Clinton in October 1993 urging him to tighten gun control laws in the United States.
The Hattoris and Haymakers also met with Clinton in the White House the following month to discuss gun control, Holley Haymaker said.
They have set up the Yoshi Foundation, which pays to send American high school students to Japan.
“I’m impressed with the Japanese,” Together Baton Rouge member Cynthia Tracy said. “They have so much compassion and understanding. They understand that what we have to hate is the use of guns and the crime itself, not the individual.”
“She is looking to change society rather than fill her heart with anger,” Tracy said.
The Hattoris and Haymakers remain close.
“It’s been a tough decade, and we hope that nationally, some reasonable act, some reasonable leadership will arise,” Haymaker said.
Hattori said she plans to continue to advocate for change.
“I felt after my son’s tragedy that his death should not be in vain,” she said.
Hattori said that after 20 years, she has finally reached a place of peace.
“More than anything, Yoshi had a wonderful time here,” Hattori said in remembering her son.
“In addition to his wonderful host family, he made many good friends at McKinley High School. He was very happy in Baton Rouge.”