DCU student's body flown home

 

The body of Irish woman Nicola Furlong has arrived back in Ireland as Japanese police continue their investigation into her death. Her funeral will take place in Curracloe, Co Wexford.

Her remains were flown to Dublin Airport this afternoon.

Two American men are being held on suspicion of drugging and strangling the DCU exchange student in an upmarket Tokyo hotel last week. Prosecutors are due to determine, possibly this week, if murder charges can be brought.

Police have named one of the men as James Blackston (23), a professional hip-hop dancer from Los Angeles, who was on assignment in Japan. The other suspect, who is 19, cannot be named because he is considered a minor in Japan. They have initially been charged with quasi-forcible indecency, a Japanese legal term used to describe groping and sexual assault.

Tokyo police say they suspect Ms Furlong (21) and her Irish friend were plied with alcohol or drugs before being raped. The two men will almost certainly be rearrested on more serious charges once police see full postmortem and toxicology reports.

“The injuries to Ms Furlong’s neck suggest suffocation through pressure on the neck, or strangulation,” a police spokesperson said.

A family member of the second unnamed Irish woman is in Tokyo to accompany her back to Ireland.

A source close to the woman, who is 21, said she was deeply traumatised following her assault and the loss of her friend. The two were studying business and Japanese language together at DCU and were nearing the end of a one-year study programme in Japan.

Family and friends of both have appealed for privacy amid intense media interest. Ms Furlong’s death has been widely covered in the Japanese media and by the main American TV networks.

“I would respectfully ask the media to bear that in mind in their reporting of the case and to allow the families and friends of both women privacy at this very difficult time,” said Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore this week.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Tokyo declined to comment, citing US privacy laws. Off the record, US state department officials say they will not take any action to interfere in the Japanese prosecution of the two suspects.

Ms Furlong, who recently celebrated her 21st birthday, had travelled to Tokyo from a rural college about an hour from the capital last Wednesday to attend a rap concert. Police believe the Americans approached them afterwards and invited them for a meal.

The four then took a taxi back to the Keio Plaza Hotel, where Ms Furlong was found unconscious in the early hours of Thursday morning. She was declared dead in a Tokyo hospital about an hour later.

Some Japanese media reports say CCTV footage from inside the taxi shows at least one of the women being assaulted. Police have requisitioned that footage and recordings from security cameras inside the hotel as they try to piece together what happened.