The screams of the 4-year-olds inside the kindergarten could be heard out in the street.
When people ran in to investigate, they found what one witness said was a scene "too horrible to imagine" — blood everywhere as a knife-wielding man slashed 29 children, two teachers and a security guard Thursday in the second such school attack in China in two days. Initially officials had reported that 28 children had been hurt but they later realized they had miscounted.
Experts called it a copycat rampage triggered by similar incidents Wednesday and last month. They said the wave of school attacks falls amid poor care for the mentally unstable and growing feelings of social injustice in the fast-changing country.
Thursday's attack at the Zhongxin Kindergarten left five students hospitalized in critical condition in the eastern city of Taixing, said Zhu Guiming, an official with the municipal propaganda department. Two teachers and the security guard were also hurt.
No motive given
The official Xinhua News Agency identified the attacker as Xu Yuyuan, a 47-year-old unemployed man using an eight-inch (20-centimeter) knife. No motive was given.
A witness to the early morning attack said people outside heard screams coming from the three-story building and rushed inside.
"It was too horrible to imagine. I saw blood everywhere, and kids bleeding from their heads," a visibly shaken Hu Tao told The Associated Press hours later.
"Some of them could not open their eyes because of the blood," he said.
Hu, who owns a small restaurant across the street from the school, said a delivery man used a fire extinguisher to knock Xu down.
Set in a side street off the main avenue of the heavily industrialized city, the kindergarten has a whimsical European-style castle turret rising above its gate and a cartoon-like bunny by the entrance, which was sealed off by police tape.
Most of the recent school invasions have been blamed on people with personal grudges or suffering from mental illness, leading to calls for improved security.
Accounts in China's state-owned media have glossed over motives and largely shied away from why schools have so often been targets. Yet experts say outbursts against the defenseless are frequently due to social pressures.
An avowedly egalitarian society only a generation ago, China's headlong rush to prosperity has sharpened differences between haves and have-nots, and the public health system has atrophied even as pressures grew.
"We must create a more healthy and just society," said Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociology professor at Renmin University in Beijing.
Violent events draw copycats
While it's not known if Thursday's attacker knew about previous school stabbings, Zhou said such sensational, violent acts often draw copycats.
"Normally, with these kind of violent events we hope the media won't blow them up too much, because that tends to make it spread," Zhou said.
On Wednesday, a man in the southern city of Leizhou broke into a primary school and wounded 15 students and a teacher in a knife attack.
That attack came the same day a man was executed for stabbing eight children to death outside their elementary school last month in the southeastern city of Nanping.
China likely has about 173 million adults with mental health disorders, and 158 million of them have never had professional help, according to a mental health survey in four provinces jointly done by Chinese and U.S. doctors that was published in the medical journal The Lancet in June.
The attack in March shocked China because eight children died and the assailant had no known history of mental illness. At his trial, Zheng Minsheng, 42, said he killed because he had been upset after being jilted by a woman and treated badly by her wealthy family. He was executed Wednesday, just a little over a month after his crime.
After a 2004 attack at a school in Beijing that left nine students dead, the central government ordered tighter school security nationwide. Regulations that took effect in 2006 require schools to register or inspect visitors and keep out people who have no reason to come inside.
The man in Wednesday's attack managed to slip into the school with a group of visiting teachers, Xinhua reported. Chen Kangbing had been a teacher himself. Xinhua said he suffered from mental illness and had been on sick leave since February 2006.
The attack left fourth and fifth graders with stab wounds on their heads, backs and arms, but none was in life-threatening condition.
The Ministry of Education did not immediately respond to a fax Thursday asking whether this week's attacks would lead to changes in school security.