BEIJING -- A man wielding a knife killed three children and a teacher in a kindergarten in eastern China, residents said Wednesday as the government muted information in a bid to allay public fears and forestall more school attacks.
The delay in releasing information by officials and state media is part of a government attempt to discourage copycat killers and assuage fears over a series of school attacks this year that have caused dozens of deaths and wounded scores.
Online postings about the attack were deleted by mid-afternoon Wednesday by government censors who police the Internet for material considered politically sensitive.
The assailant entered the Boshan District Experimental Kindergarten's Jinfengyuan branch in a suburb of Zibo in Shandong province at about 4 p.m. Tuesday as parents were picking up their children, according to people living nearby contacted by telephone.
About 20 children and staff members were wounded, two of the children seriously, they said.
In state media's only mention of the attack, Xinhua News Agency issued a short report late Wednesday, citing a city government statement that said police had detained a 26-year-old man on suspicion of killing at least three children.
Self-employed Fang Jiantang admitted committing the attack with a 24-inch knife, but his motive was unknown, Xinhua said.
Assailants in previous attacks often had mental illness, grudges against their victims or anger over personal failures.
The seemingly unrelated attacks have prompted calls for more attention to diagnosing serious mental illnesses and concern over the toll economic disparity and stress are taking on the nation's emotional health.
The government has increased school security, sought to limit publicity on attacks and told police to identify problems that might escalate to violence. It also has dealt harshly with the assailants; most of the recent school attackers have been executed, even when all their victims survived.
In Tuesday's attack, Xinhua reported three children died at the scene, and three others and four teachers were taken to hospital. Two teachers were in serious condition, it said.
Earlier, the head of the Zibo government propaganda department's news office, who gave just his surname, Bi, would say only that there had been "very few deaths and injuries."
"The country has a regulation about reporting on these sorts of reports. There's a worry that they might inspire copycat crimes creating a negative impact, so therefore, we are not issuing a report," Bi told The Associated Press by phone.
A woman who works in a restaurant opposite the kindergarten said the attacker was a man aged 27 or 28 who posed as a parent to enter the school.
Police rushed to the kindergarten soon after the attack and officers transported some wounded children to a hospital before ambulances had time to arrive, said the woman, who would give only her surname, Zhang.
"The kindergarten has been sealed off," Zhang said. "There are still police officers there."
Zhang and other area residents said the teacher died of her injuries Wednesday morning.
The Zibo killings came just two days after a drunken man driving an earthmover in Hebei province, smashing vehicles and buildings and killed 17 people.
Other recent rampages include a May 12 attack on a kindergarten in the northern province of Shaanxi that killed seven children and two adults, and the wounding of 29 children at a kindergarten in Jiangsu province in April.