Police get arrest warrant as survivor recalls Kyoto arson

Published July 21, 2019, 4:04 PM

by Rica Arevalo

By the Associated Press

TOKYO — Japanese police have obtained an arrest warrant for a suspect as soon as he regains consciousness from injuries in a deadly arson at a Kyoto anime studio, officials said Sunday.

A police officer stands in front of the Kyoto Animation Studio building consumed in an arson attack Saturday, July 20, 2019, in Kyoto, Japan. (AP Photo / MANILA BULLETIN)
A police officer stands in front of the Kyoto Animation Studio building consumed in an arson attack Saturday, July 20, 2019, in Kyoto, Japan. (AP Photo / MANILA BULLETIN)

Kyoto police said they are ready to arrest Shinji Aoba, 41, on arson and murder allegations. Aoba is accused of storming Kyoto Animation’s No. 1 studio on Thursday, setting it on fire and killing 34 people.

One of the survivors, an animator, told Japanese media he jumped from a window of the three-story building gasping for air amid scorching heat after seeing a “a black mushroom cloud” rising from downstairs.

He was one of about 70 people who were working inside the studio in southern Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, at the time of the attack.

The survivor, who was working on scenery and background for an ongoing project on the second floor, said he first heard the commotion downstairs and a female voice screaming.

Then a loud explosion followed by a colleague running up the stairs, shouting “Fire!” An alarm went off.

“A black mushroom cloud billowed up the stairs, perhaps within 15 seconds, then everything went black, like pouring black ink all over the place. I couldn’t see anything,” the man told NHK public television on condition of anonymity. He said the building quickly filled with “diabolical smell, something that would kill you if you breathe in once.” He ran out to a balcony.

“I had to decide whether to jump and get hurt, or die in the smoke,” he said. Hot air right behind him, the animator jumped with several others. He ended up with an injured arm.

Many others tried but failed to escape to the roof, fire officials said. Experts say they believe many died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The suspect, injured with severe burns on the face, torso, and limbs, is unconscious. He was transferred to another hospital specializing in treating burns, police said.

NHK and other media, quoting an unnamed source, said that Aoba has served prison terms for robbing a convenience store in 2012. The man reportedly told police that he set the fire because he thought “(Kyoto Animation) stole novels.”

Company president Hideaki Hatta said his studio never had contact from the suspect. The company founded in 1981 and better known as KyoAni made a mega-hit anime series about high school girls and trained aspirants to the craft.

The attack shocked Japan and drew an outpouring of grief from anime fans worldwide.

Aoba arrived carrying two containers of flammable liquid, police said, quoting witnesses. He entered the studio’s unlocked front door, dumped the liquid using a bucket, and set it afire with a lighter, police said.

Neighbors interviewed by Japanese media said that Aoba repeatedly ran into trouble with other residents in the apartment buildings he had lived in near Tokyo. A former owner of an apartment in Ibaraki said he saw holes in the wall and a laptop smashed up with a hammer when he inspected the room with police after neighbors complained of noise, the Asahi newspaper reported.

The fire is Japan’s deadliest fire since 2001 when a blaze in Tokyo’s congested Kabukicho entertainment district killed 44 people in the country’s worst known case of arson in modern times.