33 dead after man sets fire to Kyoto anime studio

18 July 2019: A man screaming “You die!” burst into an animation studio in Kyoto, doused it with a flammable liquid and set it on fire Thursday, killing 33 people in an attack that shocked the country and brought an outpouring of grief from anime fans.

Thirty-six others were injured, some of them critically, in a blaze that sent people scrambling up the stairs toward the roof in a desperate – and futile – attempt to escape what proved to be Japan’s deadliest fire in nearly two decades. Others emerged bleeding, blackened and barefoot.

The suspect, identified only a 41-year-old man who did not work for the studio, was injured and taken to a hospital. Police gave no details on the motive, but a witness told Japanese TV that the attacker angrily complained that something of his had been stolen, possibly by the company.

Most of the victims were employees of Kyoto Animation, which does work on movies and TV productions but is best known for its mega-hit stories featuring high school girls. The tales are so popular that fans make pilgrimages to some of the places depicted.

The blaze started at around 10:30 a.m. in the three-story building in Fushimi Ward after the attacker sprayed an unidentified liquid accelerant, police and fire officials said.

“There was an explosion, then I heard people shouting, some asking for help,” a witness told TBS TV. “Black smoke was rising from windows on upper floors. Ten there was a man struggling to crawl out of the window.”

Japanese media reported the fire might have been set near the front door, forcing people to find other ways out.

The building has a spiral staircase that may have allowed flames and smoke to rise quickly to the top floor, NHK noted. Fire expert Yuji Hasemi at Waseda University told NHK that paper drawings and other documents in the studio also may have contributed to the fire’s rapid spread.

Firefighters found 33 bodies, 20 of them on the third floor and some on the stairs to the roof, where they had apparently collapsed, Kyoto fire official Kazuhiro Hayashi said. Two were found dead on the first floor, 11 others on the second floor, he said.

A witness who saw the attacker being approached by police told Japanese media that the man admitted spreading gasoline and setting the fire with a lighter. She told NHK public television that the man had burns on his arms and legs and complained that something had been stolen from him.

She told Kyodo News that his hair got singed and his legs were exposed because his jeans were burned below the knees.

“He sounded he had a grudge against the society, and he was talking angrily to the policemen, too, though he was struggling with pain,” she told Kyodo News. “He also sounded he had a grudge against Kyoto Animation.”

NHK footage also showed sharp knives police had collected from the scene, though it was not clear if they belonged to the attacker.

Survivors said he was screaming “You die!” as he dumped the liquid, according to Japanese media. They said some of the survivors got splashed with the liquid.

Kyoto Animation, better known as KyoAni, was founded in 1981 as an animation and comic book production studio, and its hits include “Lucky Star” of 2008, “K-On!” in 2011 and “Haruhi Suzumiya” in 2009.

The company does not have a major presence outside Japan, though it was hired to do secondary animation work on a 1998 “Pokemon” feature that appeared in U.S. theaters and a “Winnie the Pooh” video.

“My heart is in extreme pain. Why on earth did such violence have to be used?” company president Hideaki Hatta said. Hatta said the company had received anonymous death threats by email in the past, but he did not link them to Thursday’s attack.

Anime fans expressed anger, prayed and mourned the victims on social media. A crowd-funding site was set up to help the company rebuild.

Fire officials said more than 70 people were in the building at the time.

The death toll exceeded that of a 2016 attack by a man who stabbed and killed 19 people at a nursing home in Tokyo.

A fire in 2001 in Tokyo’s congested Kabukicho entertainment district killed 44 people in the country’s worst known case of arson in modern times. Police never announced an arrest in the setting of the blaze, though five people were convicted of negligence.

fire at Japan anime studio, killing 33

Tokyo — A 41-year-old man screaming “You die!” ignited a flammable liquid at the door of a revered animation studio in Kyoto, authorities said, setting off an explosive blaze that rapidly consumed the three-story building. Officials said 33 people were confirmed dead in the fire. Mikihide Daikoku of the  Kyoto fire department said 36 more were injured, 10 of them critically.

Eyewitness cellphone videos show enormous, thick black clouds of smoke billowing from the structure.

The suspect’s identity and motives remained a mystery. Police said the man, who was being treated for injuries he sustained in the fire himself, was neither a current nor former employee of Kyoto Animation Company, a renowned producer of hit TV series. Affectionately known as KyoAni, the company was founded in 1981, and has a devoted fan base worldwide.

An aerial view shows firefighters battling fires at the site where a man started a fire after spraying a liquid at a three-story studio of Kyoto Animation Co. in Kyoto, western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo, July 18, 2019. KYODO / REUTERS

Residents of the densely populated Fushimi Ward neighborhood, responding to the terrified screams and pleas for help, assisted in the rescue of victims, many of whom emerged singed, shoe-less and bleeding — some leaving bloody footprints on the sidewalk.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his condolences to the victims of the blaze in a tweet, calling it an “arson murder spree.”

“I’m speechless,” Abe said. “I pray for the souls of those who have passed away. I would like to express my condolences to all of the injured and wish them a speedy recovery.”

Work to recover the dead and wounded from the building was slowed by the instability of the badly damaged structure.

The suspect was burned on his feet, hands and chest, and collapsed nearby while attempting to flee, officials said. As he was treated for the non-life-threatening injuries, police said he confessed would remain in custody. Police said multiple knives were also discovered at the scene.

Police did not give a motive, but a witness told Japanese TV that the attacker complained that something of his had been stolen, possibly by the company, the Associated Press reported.

“He sounded he had a grudge against the society, and he was talking angrily to the policemen, too, though he was struggling with pain,” she told Kyodo News. “He also sounded he had a grudge against Kyoto Animation.”

A total of 67 employees were on duty, police said. Of those, 10 were discovered in a state of cardiac arrest on the second floor. One victim was quickly declared dead and ten others sustained serious injuries, while 26 others escaped with light injuries.

The incident occurred around 10:35 a.m. local time, at Kyoto Animation’s No. 1 studio. An expert interviewed by CBS News partner network TBS TV said the compactness of the approximately 7,500-sq. foot structure and the fact that there was only one exit made it especially vulnerable to an attack on the building’s entrance. The perpetrator apparently went to great lengths to plan the crime and obtain gasoline, the sale of which is tightly controlled in Japan; it is not sold in containers.

Fans from around the world took to Twitter to urge donations and to express disbelief, horror and sadness. “Kyoto Animation are a rarity in the anime business,” wrote Twitter user Mike Toole. “They treat their people well, they strive to own part of their works, and their creations are constantly excellent, at the very least on a technical level.”

A user named AalalasesPen said, “To think it was only a few nights ago that my friends and I gathered…to watch A Silent Voice. I’m at a loss for words.”

Devin Howard wrote simply, “Why the hell would somebody do this???”

Some speculated that the suspect might be a disgruntled “otaku,” a Japanese word referring to socially awkward “nerds” who obsess over anime and manga comic books. In recent years, reclusive obsessives have been blamed for committing sensational crimes — a charge anime fans say unfairly and inaccurately characterizes both those who enjoy cartoons, and the estimated 1 million or so “hikkikomori,” or social recluses.

“It’s not ‘otaku commits crime,’ but the criminal happened to be a consumer of anime,” a 20-something female anime fan was quoted as saying in the Business Journal publication. Anime and manga are so pervasive throughout Japanese society, she said, that it is unfair to accuse the pop culture of fostering criminal minds.

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