Photo/IllutrationPolice and fire officials conduct an investigation on July 19 for suspected arson and murder at a studio of Kyoto Animation Co. (Yoshinori Mizuno)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

KYOTO--The arson suspect in a fire at an animation studio here may have held a grudge against the animation company and likely planned the attack, which killed 33 people, according to police.

Police are still waiting to question the 41-year-old man who resides in Saitama city because he has been anesthetized at a hospital where he is being treated for burns caused by the blaze, apparently set by gasoline.

Investigative sources said when the man was detained by police soon after the fire began, he reportedly said to the effect that he set the fire because Kyoto Animation Co. "stole my novel."

Investigative sources said the man reportedly told police he set the fire with an igniter. Police believe the suspect purchased the thin cylindrical device at a nearby discount store before heading to the Kyoto Animation studio in Fushimi Ward, where the fire broke out at about 10:35 a.m. on July 18.

A man similar in appearance to the suspect was also observed purchasing gasoline from a nearby gasoline station. That man had two 20-liter tanks for the gasoline.

Police are looking into suspected murder and arson charges as the attack appears to be premeditated.

The 33 people who died were mainly Kyoto Animation employees. Many of the victims were found by firefighters on the second and third floors of the three-story structure. In particular, 19 were found lying on top of each other on a stairway measuring about 1.2 meters in width connecting the third floor with the roof.

Five victims were so badly burned that an autopsy was required on July 19 to determine their cause of death. All the other victims are believed to have died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Hideaki Hatta, Kyoto Animation president, explained that while special ID cards are needed to enter the studio, the security system was temporarily deactivated on July 18 because of a scheduled meeting that included participants from outside the company.

Police said the suspect entered the front entrance and splashed the gasoline in that area.

Experts said the highly volatile nature of the liquid accelerant and the structure of the building may have contributed to the quick spread of flames and smoke that led to the high number of fatalities.

Shinichi Sugahara, a professor emeritus at the Tokyo University of Science and honorary member in the Japan Association for Fire Science and Engineering, said fumes from gasoline quickly fill a room and when ignited, fire and smoke can spread at an explosive rate covering the entire structure.

He said the flames spread to open areas and up stairways, smashing windows as they go. The broken windows allow oxygen to enter the building, further fueling the blaze.

Sugahara said that if such a fire was ignited on the first floor, those on higher floors would have had little time to escape.

Moreover, the studio of Kyoto Animation had a spiral stairway from the first to third floors that likely contributed to the quick spread of the fire.

Kyoto police said while there were 74 people in the building at the time of the fire, only six managed to escape with no injuries.

A total of 36 individuals, including the suspect, suffered injuries, with 10 in serious condition.

Firefighters finally extinguished the blaze at 6:20 a.m. on July 19, about 20 hours after it was set.

Meanhile, Hatta had earlier told reporters that Kyoto Animation had received e-mail death threats from a few years ago. While it was unclear whether there was any connection to the July 18 fire, Hatta said although he had consulted lawyers and police, nothing ever came of those e-mails until now.

Neighbors in the quiet residential area where the studio is located were stunned by what had happened at the Kyoto Animation studio.

A 16-year-old high school student living nearby said he was deeply saddened at the damage caused to a building he was familiar with since he was a child.

"When I walked my pet cat when I was in elementary school, a woman employee at the company would often play with me," he said.

One 40-year-old man on his way to work stopped by the Kyoto Animation studio to lay flowers at the scene. He began viewing the works of the company after he moved to Kyoto a few years ago.

"I felt a closeness to the works because the beautiful landscape of these surroundings and the expressions of the characters were so skillfully depicted," he said.