At Least 33 Dead in Arson Attack at Kyoto Animation Studio

Kyoto Fire - Getty - H 2019

A man in his 40s was arrested and has admitted setting fire to the building with gasoline.

An arson attack on Kyoto Animation in Japan on Thursday morning has led to at least 33 fatalities and left many more injured.

A 41-year-old man walked into the company's 1st Studio building in Fujimi Ward, Kyoto City just after 10 a.m. and poured what is suspected to be gasoline around the building before lighting it. The suspect, who is also understood to be injured, was arrested by police and has reportedly admitted to the crime. His motive has yet to be determined, but he is reported to have shouted "die" as he set the fires. Early reports suggest he had no connection to the studio.

The police have stated at least 33 people are dead and more injured, with 36 more in the hospital. Around 70 staff are understood to have been inside the studio at the time.

An explosion in the building, which is the main production facility for the company, was heard nearby. A professor of fire safety and materials told public broadcaster NHK that poor ventilation, an abundance of paper used by artists on the premises and the large quantity of gasoline around the building likely caused the fire to spread too quickly for people to escape.

A fire department spokesperson said they received calls about an explosion on the first floor and additional calls later, including one saying, "The fire is rising, help us."

Thirty fire trucks and ambulances attended the scene and casualties have been taken to multiple hospitals in Kyoto. Footage shot from public broadcaster NHK's helicopter showed smoke and fire damage on all three floors.

Kyoto Animation was founded in 1981 by producer Yoko Hatta and her husband, Hideaki, and employs around 160 people. It has an office in Tokyo with its headquarters in nearby Uji City, Kyoto Prefecture, as well as a subsidiary Animation Do in Osaka. The company is behind numerous features and TV series, including K-ON!, Violet Evergarden: The Movie and A Silent Voice: The Movie.

"Why on earth did such violence have to be used?" company president Hatta asked, as he condemned the attack, according to the Associated Press. Hatta said his company has received seemingly random, anonymous death threats by emails in the past but responded "sincerely" each time. He refrained from linking such threats to Thursday's attack, however.

Anime fans expressed anger, prayed and mourned for the victims at Kyoto Animation on social networks. A cloud-funding site also started up to help the company rebuild.

Kyodo News reported witnesses said they heard bangs coming from the building and others said they saw people coming out blackened, bleeding, walking barefoot. Rescue officials set up an orange tent outside the studio to provide first aid.

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

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tweeted about the attack, describing it as "too awful for words," offering his condolences and praying for the speedy recovery of the survivors.

Violent crime is extremely rare in Japan, and Thursday's attack is the worst mass murder in Japan's postwar history. The tragedy came just two months after a man went on a brutal knife attack in the Tokyo suburbs, stabbing 16 schoolgirls, one of whom died along with an adult. Sixteen people in 2016 were stabbed to death and more injured in a deadly spree at a Tokyo care home by a former employee. In both incidents, the perpetrators were found to be suffering from mental illnesses. Over 40 people died in a fire in the Kabukicho entertainment district of Shinjuku, central Tokyo in September 2001. Arson was suspected but no arrests were ever made.