Massive fire broke out at Kyoto Animation Studio as a man screaming “You die!” burst into the studio, splashed flammable liquid and set it on fire on Thursday. This resulted in the death of 33 people in an attack that shocked the country and brought an outpouring of grief from anime fans.
36 others were injured, some of them critically, in a blaze that sent people scrambling up the stairs towards the roof to escape what proved to be Japan’s deadliest fire in nearly two decades. Others emerged bleeding, blackened and barefoot. Japanese media reported the fire might have been set near the front door, forcing people to find other ways out.
The suspect, identified as a 41-year-old man who was not an employee of the studio, was injured and taken to a hospital. Police gave no details on the motive, but a witness told Japanese TV that the attacker angrily complained that something of his had been stolen, possibly by the company.
Most of the victims were employees of the studio, Kyoto Animation, which works on movies and TV productions but is best known for its mega-hit stories featuring high school girls. The tales are so popular that fans make pilgrimages to some of the places depicted.
The blaze started in the three-story building in Japan’s ancient capital after the attacker sprayed most probably gasoline, police and fire officials said.
“There was an explosion, then I heard people shouting, some asking for help. Black smoke was rising from windows on upper floors. Ten there was a man struggling to crawl out of the window,” a witness told TBS TV.
Fire expert Yuji Hasemi at Waseda University told NHK that paper drawings and other documents in the studio also may have contributed to the fire’s rapid spread. A witness who saw the attacker being approached by police told Japanese media that the man admitted spreading gasoline and setting the fire with a lighter. She told NHK public television that the man had burns on his arms and legs and complained that something had been stolen from him.
“He seemed to have grudges against society, and he was talking angrily to the policemen, too, though he was struggling with pain. He also seemedto have a grudge against Kyoto Animation,” she told Kyodo News.
Kyoto Animation, better known as KyoAni, was founded in 1981 as an animation and comic book production studio, and its hits include Lucky Star of 2008, K-On! in 2011 and Haruhi Suzumiya in 2009.
The company does not have a major presence outside Japan, though it was hired to do secondary animation work on a 1998 Pokemon feature that appeared in U.S. theaters and a Winnie the Pooh video.
“My heart is in extreme pain. Why on earth did such violence have to be used?” company president Hideaki Hatta said. Hatta said the company had received anonymous death threats by email in the past, but he did not link them to Thursday’s attack.
Anime fans expressed anger, prayed and mourned the victims on social media. A crowd-funding site was set up to help the company rebuild.
Fire officials said more than 70 people were in the building at the time. The death toll exceeded that of a 2016 attack by a man who stabbed and killed 19 people at a nursing home in Tokyo.