Japan Arson Attack: What Unfolded Inside the Building and Why So Many Died

Kyoto Fire 2 - Getty - H 2019
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The fire spread rapidly through the Kyoto Animation building, killing 33 and injuring dozens more.

More details have emerged as to what happened, and why so many died, inside the Kyoto Animation building when a 41-year-old carried out an arson attack on Thursday, the worst mass murder in Japan since the end of World War II.

At 10.30 a.m. local time on Thursday, the 41-year-old suspect walked into the entrance of the 1st Studio of Kyoto Animation in Fushimi Ward, Kyoto City. Security doors were open, despite the company receiving multiple death threats recently, because staff were expecting visitors.

The attacker was carrying 11 gallons of gasoline, which he had transported to the building on a trolley after transferring it from two cans. While pouring the flammable liquid around the entrance and first floor of the office, he also threw it over some workers and managed to set himself on fire as he started the blaze with a long BBQ-type lighter.

The arsonist and some members of staff ran from the building, with their clothes and hair ablaze, according to witnesses. 

An explosion on the ground floor was reported by those nearby, which may have been the large quantity of gasoline igniting.

Staff appear to have headed for the upper floors in an attempt to escape the rapidly spreading flames, and at least one emergency call pleaded for help, saying, "The fire is rising through the building."

Nineteen of the bodies were found on third floor, many on stairs that went up to the roof, while 11 were discovered on the second floor. Of the dead, 19 are female and 11 male, while the gender of one was unable to be determined. The studio was known for its many female animators and writers, as well as stories about women, in an industry that is relatively male-dominated. 

The fire spread quickly through the building, likely due to the amount of paper used by artists and other documents, poor ventilation and the large amount of gasoline, according to an expert on fire safety quoted by public broadcaster NHK. Of the 73 people understood to have been inside, 68 were either killed or injured.

The studio building was completed in 2015 and passed a fire inspection in October.

The suspect attempted to escape, but collapsed after ringing the bell of an elderly lady's house nearby. The woman said he was shoeless, bleeding from his feet and that his jeans were still on fire. She hosed him with water, after which he was caught by police.

He told police on the scene that he had started the fire and what he had used, and claimed he had done so because the studio had stolen his ideas.