Arson is suspected in a deadly fire at Kyoto Animation Co. (aka KyoAni), which killed at least 33 people and injured dozens more this morning in Japan. The suspect is in custody.
The Asahi Shimbun reported that the suspect, a 41-year-old man, entered the building screaming, “Die!” and doused the floor in a flammable liquid, which he ignited. The newspaper also reported a woman said the man screamed, “They ripped me off!”
Images of smoke pouring from the blackened, three-story building dominated Japanese media for the day.
The suspect attempted to flee but was captured by Kyoto Animation employees who were doing the same. He collapsed on a sidewalk and was taken into custody, then to a hospital. The New York Times reported that the Kyoto City Fire Department confirmed 33 deaths and 36 injuries; The Asahi Shimbun said 17 remain hospitalized. The Japan Times said police confirmed it was the highest death toll in an arson in the past 30 years.
Kyoto Animation was founded in 1981 and is well known for popular adaptations of manga and visual novels such as Clannad, K-On!, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and the Full Metal Panic series. Kotaku reported this morning that an announcement about the studio’s next project, a feature film in its series of Free! adaptations, has been postponed.
The New York Times reported harrowing scenes of burned victims and people trying to escape through broken windows. Hideaki Hatta, Kyoto Animation’s president and co-founder, spoke to media in front of the burned building later in the day. “This has just broken our hearts,” he said, according to The Japan Times. “What’s the use of resorting to violence?”
The suspect’s motive is so far unknown. The Japan Times notes that arson resulting in death can carry a death sentence in Japan, where a man is currently on death row for a 2008 fire in an Osaka video store that killed 16.
Sentai Filmworks, a U.S.-based anime licensing company, quickly started a crowdfunding campaign to aid victims of the fire, with more than $500,000 raised from 15,215 donors in eight hours. “We’ve known KyoAni through their many works that have inspired, influenced and entertained us over the years,” John Ledford, president of the company, said in a statement on the GoFundMe page. “They are true masters of their art and one of Japan’s national treasures.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was among the many expressing sympathy and shock on social media. “So many people were killed or injured,” he wrote (in a translation by The Japan Times). “It’s so appalling I can’t find a word to say.”