How a knock on the wrong door led to teen's tragic death

Almost three decades after a Japanese exchange student knocked on the wrong door and was fatally shot, his parents, host family and lawyer have spoken out.

Yoshihiro ‘Yoshi’ Hattori was 16-years-old in 1992, when he went over to the United States through an exchange program.

Yoshihiro was the second oldest child of Masaichi and Mieko Hattori and he stayed with Richard and Holley Haymaker, and their son Webb in Baton Rouge in Louisiana.

Speaking to the BBC in a recent interview, Yoshi’s parents said their son became eager to go to the United States when he passed a test for the American Field Services (AFS).

In his application for the program, Yoshi wrote he about how he wished he could make the country his “second home” and said he could introduce Japanese cuisine and way of life to his host family.

Masaichi and Mieko Hattori enter district court carrying a photo of their slain son, Yoshihiro. Source: AP Photo/Stan Alost.

In 1992, Yoshi headed to the United States for the year-long exchange program. His former host mother, Holley Haymaker described Yoshi as a “total extrovert” and said he was well liked by his peers at his high school in the US.

“He was a really, really extraordinary guy. He was life. He moved through space like a dancer,” she told the BBC.

Webb Haymaker was 16 when Yoshihiro stayed with the family and the two attended festivals together and were invited to a Halloween party northeast of Baton Rouge.

On Saturday October 17, 1992, Webb and Yoshi were dressed for the Halloween party, Webb as an accident victim and Yoshi as John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.

The two mistook a house with Halloween decorations and a similar address for the place of the party.

The two saw a woman poke her head out of a side garage door, before slamming it, after they knocked on the front door.

Webb recalled to the BBC he started to walk down the block, thinking they had gotten the wrong address. Then Rodney Peairs opened the door, with a gun in his hand.

Webb Haymaker pictured in March 1994, two years after Yoshi was shot. Source: AFP via Getty Images.

“He [Yoshi] was very eager to get to the party and didn't understand I guess that [Peairs] had a gun. Maybe he thought it was a Halloween thing," Webb said.

While Yoshi made his way to the front door eagerly, exclaiming “We’re here for the party!”, Peairs yelled “freeze”. When Yoshi didn’t stop moving towards the door, potentially not understanding Peairs, he was shot once in the chest, while the man went back inside, slamming the door.

Yoshi died in the ambulance from the loss of blood.

During the trial, Peairs testified he saw Yoshi and believed him to be a crazed intruder and mistook his camera for a weapon, according to a 1993 Washington Post article.

Pearis’s wife would testify she saw the two teens and panicked, yelling at her husband to get his gun.

Rodney Peairs said he shot 16-year-old Yoshihiro Hattori on October 17, 1992, because he thought he was an intruder. Source: Thom Scott / AFP via Getty Images.

The Haymakers were leaving the theatre when Holley received a pager, she called the number and the police told her Webb was fine and Yoshi was not, but there was no need to meet them at the hospital.

When Holley and Richard met Webb at the police station, they told him of his friend’s fate.

Just days after the shooting the Hattoris arrived in New Orleans. Masaichi would stay for Rodney Peairs’s trial, which attracted media attention from around the world.

At first Pearis was not taken in to custody, police believed he had every right to defend his property, it wasn’t until a local politician stepped in the police charged him with manslaughter.

After the jury declared Pearis “not guilty”, Masaichi said he was saddened and he hoped Americans would respond to the Hattori’s petition to limit gun violence in America.

The Hattoris amassed over 1.7 million signatures on a petition in Japan, the Haymakers also decided to help the family and they received 150,000 signatures by mail.

President Bill Clinton looking at photos of Japanese exchange student Yoshihiro Hattori with his parents. Source: Time Life Pictures/White House/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images.

In 1994, Pearis was found liable to the Hattoris and was ordered to pay $650,000 in damages in a civil suit. The family used the money to set up two charitable funds, one of which funds organisations which lobby for gun control.

"So they can learn what it is like to live in a place without guns," Mieko Hattori told the Honolulu Advertiser in 2000.

To this day, the Hattoris remain involved gun control activism, and in February 2018, the family showed their support for victims of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, speaking to survivors and taking part in the March for Our Lives to show solidarity.

Holley and Richard are no longer involved in campaigning for gun control however they told the BBC they are still watching gun control be debated across the United States.

“There are so many events and so many young people involved, and that's extremely important. How that will shake out, I just have no idea,” Richard said.

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