Photo/IllutrationFlowers are placed in front of Kyoto Animation Co.’s studio that was deliberately set on fire on July 18. (Hikaru Uchida)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

KYOTO--Police here released the name of the suspect behind the deadly arson attack against a studio of Kyoto Animation Co., a man with a history of causing problems with neighbors in Saitama Prefecture.

The suspect, Shinji Aoba, 41, remains unconscious and in critical condition with burns over most of his body. He was transported by helicopter to another hospital that can provide more specialized treatment, Kyoto prefectural police said on July 20.

Police normally only release the names of suspects after they have been formally arrested. But Kyoto police officials said the gravity of the arson attack on July 18 led them to reveal his name.

They also provided details of Aoba’s likely movements before the three-story animation studio was set ablaze, trapping dozens of employees inside.

A man in his 30s who was taken to a hospital after the fire was confirmed dead, bringing the death toll to 34, police said.

Police officials said that while most of the victims are believed to have died from carbon monoxide poisoning, autopsies showed that five were killed by the flames.

The names of the victims have not been released because their identities have yet to be confirmed, officials said.

A woman who lives near the crime scene said she saw a suspicious man on July 17 lying on a bench in a park about 500 meters west of Kyoto Animation’s studio in Fushimi Ward.

She said she saw the same man at the bench around 8 a.m. on July 18, about two and a half hours before the fire started. The woman said the man’s clothes were the same as what Aoba was wearing when he was detained by police after fleeing from the burning studio.

Police searched the park and found empty boxes that at one time likely contained tanks that Aoba had filled with gasoline.

Investigative sources said Aoba bought 40 liters of the fuel from a gasoline stand about 30 minutes before the fire started. He pumped the gasoline into two 20-liter tanks that he had brought with him, telling a worker there that he needed the fuel for a generator.

Aoba placed the tanks on a pushcart and headed in the direction of the studio, about 500 meters away, the sources said.

Police found the pushcart and tanks near the crime scene along with a bucket that Aoba likely used to carry the gasoline to the animation studio before igniting it.

Sources said when he was being detained, Aoba accused the studio of “stealing my novel.”

Before he was taken to the hospital, Aoba also told police he had arrived in Kyoto by train, the sources said.

Aoba resides in Saitama city’s Minuma Ward, where he caused problems with his neighbors.

He often blared music from video games he was playing, leading to at least two complaints filed with Saitama prefectural police, in August 2018 and March 2019.

According to a man in his 40s who resides in the same apartment complex, Aoba moved in next door around summer 2016.

In summer 2018, loud music from Aoba’s unit caused the wall separating the two apartments to shake.

When the man went outside, he saw two police officers pounding on the door to Aoba’s apartment.

A man in his 20s who lives on the other side of Aoba’s apartment recalled that around noon on July 14, Aoba pounded on the door of his apartment and turned the door knob.

Aoba did not enter but banged on the separating wall from his own room, the neighbor said.

When the neighbor went to Aoba’s apartment to complain, Aoba grabbed him by the chest and threatened to kill him. Aoba continued this threatening behavior for about 10 minutes, the neighbor said.

Officers at a nearby police box said the neighbor called them to complain about the incident, but police did not contact Aoba about the matter.

MONUMENT PLANNED FOR VICTIMS

Hideaki Hatta, president of Kyoto Animation, told reporters on July 20 that he wanted to turn the crime scene into a park and build a monument for the victims.

“I don't think neighbors or those who come to the site to pray will want to see the damaged building,” Hatta said. “I want to cover the building as soon as possible and then remove it.”

He also said the company was planning to hold a memorial service for the employees who died in the fire.

Hatta added that the heartwarming messages and flowers offered from visitors from both Japan and abroad have provided psychological support.