Kyoto Arson Attack: Details About Victims, Fire and Arsonist Emerge

Gavin Blair
Eyewitness photo of the arson attack on Kyoto Animation

The company's president says many of the victims were young women, some who had just begun work at Kyoto Animation in April. The suspect had served time for robbery and recently had threatened a neighbor.

Another victim of the arson attack on Kyoto Animation died overnight Friday in the hospital, bringing the death toll to 34, with another 34 still hospitalized. Among the dead, 26 victims were in their 20s and 30s, public broadcaster NHK reported Saturday.

Hideaki Hatta, president of the company, said many of the dead were young women, including some who had joined in April, the standard time to begin a new job in Japan. Hatta told Reuters he had this month paid the newcomers their first small bonuses and believed they had bright futures ahead, adding, "I just don't have words."

Kyoto Animation is known in the anime industry for treating its staff well. The average age of its employees was 34.

The spiral staircase in the middle of the studio may have acted like a chimney, drawing the flames, heat and smoke upward as staff attempted to use it to escape the fire by fleeing to the roof.

No one appeared to have made it to the roof and more than half the bodies were found on the upper floor and stairs. It is still unclear whether the door to the roof was locked, Hiroyuki Sakai, deputy police chief of the Fushimi district, told The Hollywood Reporter on Friday.

Because of the size of the building, it was not required to have sprinklers installed, which might have slowed the spread of the fire. It had passed a safety inspection in October. The 11 gallons of gasoline used in the attack ignited so quickly that neighbors reported hearing an explosion and the arsonist himself was also burned.

A local high school student, Keiyu Hada, witnessed the blaze "seven or eight minutes after it had started" and told The Hollywood Reporter the heat was so intense that it felt unbearable on his face, even though he was standing about 30 feet away.

"There were three people outside that I saw had come out of the building. They were on fire; their clothes and hair were burning," said Keiyu, whose family looks after and lives at the nearby Daizenji Rokujizoson Buddhist temple. "After a while, I couldn't bear to look, so we went back to the temple. Some people from the neighborhood came with us; they thought there might be another explosion."

On Saturday morning, NHK footage showed suspect Shinji Aoba, who admitted to setting fire to the studio when he was taken into custody on Thursday and was then transferred by helicopter to a hospital in Osaka that specializes in burns. He appeared to have extensive burns across his body and to be unconscious. Police have been unable to question him.

The suspect previously served a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence for robbery of a convenience store armed with a knife in 2012. Aoba was unemployed and had received treatment for mental health issues. He had recently threatened to kill a neighbor who had asked him to stop making noise in the apartments where they lived in Urawa, north of Tokyo, according to local media reports.