A man suspected of torching an animation studio and killing 33 people in Japan’s worst mass killing in two decades carried out the attack because he believed his novel had been plagiarised, local media said on Friday (local time).
- Shinji Aoba, 41, has been identified as the suspected arsonist
- Authorities said 10 people are still in a critical condition in hospital
- Fans of Kyoto Animation have left flowers by the building as a mark of respect
The man wheeled a trolley carrying at least one bucket of petrol to the entrance of the Kyoto Animation building before dousing the area, shouting “die!” and setting it ablaze on Thursday, broadcaster Nippon TV stated, citing police.
Police identified the suspected arsonist as Shinji Aoba, who was taken into custody soon after the attack, broadcaster NHK said, adding that he had not been arrested.
“I did it,” the 41-year-old told police when he was detained, Kyodo News said, adding that he had started the fire because he believed the studio had stolen his novel.
Police declined to comment. Nippon TV said the suspect had been sedated because of burns he suffered and police had so far been unable to question him.
He “seemed to be discontented, he seemed to get angry, shouting something about how he had been plagiarised,” a woman who saw the man being detained told reporters.
The fire killed 33 people and another 10 people were in critical condition, authorities said. It marks the worst mass killing since a suspected arson attack in Tokyo killed 44 people in 2001.
Aoba was believed to have bought two 20-litre petrol cans at a hardware store and prepared them in a park near the studio, Nippon TV said.
He travelled to the area by train, the broadcaster added.
NHK showed footage of the suspect lying on his back as he spoke to a police officer at the time of his detention, shoeless and with apparent burns on his right leg below the knee.
He had no connection with Kyoto Animation and his driver’s licence gave an address in the north Tokyo suburb of Saitama, NHK said.
None of the victims’ identities had been disclosed as of Friday. There were 74 people inside the building when the fire started, Kyodo News said.
“I imagine many of the people who died were in their 20s,” said 71-year-old Kozo Tsujii, who drives by the studio on his daily commute. He brought flowers to leave at the building on Friday.
“I’m just very, very sad that these people who are so much younger than me passed away so prematurely,” he said.
‘Bodies piled up’
The building did not have any sprinklers or indoor fire hydrants, though it was not legally required to by the fire code, a Kyoto Fire Department official said.
Citing authorities, Kyodo News reported that 19 of the 33 who died were found on a staircase leading up to the roof from the third floor, with bodies piled on top of each other.
Firefighters arriving soon after the fire began found the door to the roof was shut but could be opened from the outside, Kyodo News stated.
The victims may have rushed up the stairs to escape the blaze and found themselves unable to open the door, it added.
The fire was not put out until early on Friday.
Police investigators searched the smouldering shell of the building for evidence in an investigation that Kyodo News said covered suspected arson, murder and attempted murder.
Two petrol cans, a backpack and a trolley were found near the site, and television images showed what appeared to be five long knives laid out by police as possible evidence outside the three-storey building.
Kyoto Animation, which is based in a quiet suburb about 20 minutes by train from the centre of Kyoto, produces popular anime series such as the Sound! Euphonium.
Its latest film, Free! Road to the World – The Dream is due for release this month.
Fans of the studio stopped by the burnt building to pay their respects in the aftermath of the blaze.
“I love Japan so much and this one incident won’t change my entire perspective on Japan, but it still hurts,” Blake Henderson, a 26-year-old from Alabama, said.
Jun Shin, a 30-year-old living in nearby Osaka, said he was a big fan of the studio’s work.
“I have watched animation since I was a student, and this was a terrible event, I just want to come and mourn. It left me speechless.”