Japanese Police Arrest Suspect in Deadly Kyoto Animation Attack

Kyoto Animation Fire_SPLASH - Getty - H 2019
The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

Shinji Aoba, 42, was detained in the immediate aftermath of the arson attack, but local police had to wait more than 10 months to formally arrest him, as he was too badly burned to sustain questioning.

Japanese police on Wednesday arrested the only suspect in last year's deadly arson attack on Kyoto Animation, the family-run studio behind a string of internationally beloved anime films and television series.

The suspect, Shinji Aoba, 42, spent the past 10 months in Kyoto hospitals recovering from severe burns he incurred during the attack. Local police obtained an arrest warrant in the immediate aftermath of the incident but were forced to wait until Aoba became well enough to sit for questioning.

Television coverage in Japan Wednesday morning showed the suspect, conscious but heavily scarred on his face and arms, being wheeled into Kyoto police headquarters on a stretcher. Later in the afternoon authorities said he had confessed to all charges.

Aoba is accused of storming into a Kyoto Animation production facility last July and sparking an explosive fire that killed 36 people and injured 33 others. Witnesses at the scene told police that he pushed a cart carrying two large canisters of gasoline into the studio's lobby, screamed "Die" and then set them alight. The incident is thought to be Japan's largest act of mass murder since World War II.

One surviving Kyoto Animation staffer described leaping from a second-floor window as searing heat and black smoke roared through the building. Many of the victims attempted to escape via a central stairwell but died of carbon monoxide poisoning before reaching the roof, according to a fire report.

Aoba was among the very few who managed to escape the blaze on the ground floor. He sustained severe burns over much of his body and spent weeks in a medically induced coma. Japanese media said Wednesday that he still cannot walk or feed himself without assistance.

Japanese police told the local media Wednesday that Aoba said there was "no mistake" in the allegations against him. He was quoted saying he thought he could "kill many people by using gasoline." Police noted that he has made no apologies nor expressed any remorse during questioning.

Kyoto Animation released a short statement in response to Aoba's arrest. "We have nothing to say to the suspect. … Our fellow workers whose lives were lost will never come back and the wounds of our colleagues will never be healed," the company said. The statement only added that Kyoto Animation expects Aoba to face "maximum criminal responsibility."

Shortly after Aoba was detained last July, Japanese media, citing unnamed police sources, reported Aoba's motive to be the belief that the company had stolen a novel he wrote.

Kyoto Animation, one of Japan's most beloved anime studios, has long been famous for its positive work culture and the many fan engagement events it holds throughout the year. One such activity was an annual contest in which draft novels were solicited from aspiring writers, with the winning work selected by the studio for development into a feature film or anime series.

After Aoba's allegation came to light, Kyoto Animation undertook an internal investigation and discovered that it indeed had received a draft manuscript under the name Shinji Aoba. The work was handed over to police and its contents have never been revealed publicly. Kyoto Animation said the work bears no similarities to any of their released films or series.

In his only one-on-one interview since the incident, Kyoto Animation's 69-year-old co-founder and CEO Hideaki Hatta told The Hollywood Reporter late last year that his thoughts and energy would only be directed toward providing comfort for victims and rebuilding Kyoto Animation for its fans. Of Aoba, he said: "He doesn't exist in my mind. This is not a human act. This isn't something a human is capable of. I am beyond hate."