33 dead in suspected arson attack at famous Japanese animation studio

Firefighters work as smoke billows from a three-story building of Kyoto Animation in a fire in Kyoto, western Japan, on Thursday, July 18, 2019.

Firefighters work as smoke billows from a three-story building of Kyoto Animation in a fire in Kyoto, western Japan, on Thursday, July 18, 2019.
Kyodo via Reuters

At least 33 people died in a suspected arson attack at a popular animation studio in Kyoto, western Japan, on Thursday morning, The Associated Press and Reuters reported.

Thirty-six others are injured, about 10 of them critically, Reuters reported, citing a local fire official.

The fire broke out at a three-story building of Kyoto Animation around 10:35 a.m. after a man burst in and poured around an unidentified, flammable liquid that set off the blaze, the news agencies reported.

Most of the victims were employees at the studio, the AP said.

Aerial footage of the building showed thick white smoke billowing out of the windows, many of which were charred black.

Witnesses heard the suspect scream “Die!” as he ran into the building and spread the liquid around, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reported.

While police declined to identify him, they said he was not a company employee, the AP reported.

The suspect was also injured and taken to hospital. He remains unconscious, Asahi said.

Police are currently investigating him for arson, but are unable to question him as he is still being treated, Reuters reported.

The motive is not immediately clear. But according to Asahi, a woman living near the building said she heard the suspect tell the police: “They ripped me off,” likely referring to the studio.

More than 70 people were in the building at the time of the fire, but most of them managed to run outside, the AP reported.

Firefighters found victims on all three floors of the building, including 10 people on the stairs leading from the second floor to the roof, Reuters reported the fire department as saying. It’s not clear if they were trying to escape.

The fire was almost extinguished hours later, and the fire department said on Thursday night that it had completed its search of the building.

“There was an explosion, then I heard people shouting, some asking for help,” a witness told Japan’s TBS TV station, according to the AP.

“Black smoke was rising from windows on upper floors, then there was a man struggling to crawl out of the window,” she said.

Other witnesses said they saw people leaving the building blackened, bleeding, and walking barefoot, the AP reported, citing Kyodo News.

‘Too appalling for words’

Thursday’s incident has yielded the highest death toll for an arson attack since 1989, The Japan Times reported.

Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, tweeted that the attack was “too appalling for words.”

Kyoto Animation, better known as KyoAni, was founded in 1981 as an animation and comic book production studio.

It is is known for mega-hit stories featuring high school girls, including “Lucky Star,” ”K-On!” and “Haruhi Suzumiya.”

Its latest movie, titled “Free! Road to the World – The Dream,” is due to release this month.