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Kyoto Animation arson attack: 34 dead; studio received threat last year

KYOTO (TR) – Kyoto Prefectural Police said on Friday, the day after a suspected arson attack at Kyoto Animation left more than 30 people dead, that the studio received a threat last year.

According to police, someone submitted a death threat last October through the web site of Kyoto Animation, whose studio in Kyoto City was set ablaze on Thursday morning.

The number of persons now confirmed dead stands at 34 with another 34 injured. It is very likely that the cause of death for the majority of the persons was carbon monoxide poisoning, police said.

Police also revealed that a man in custody is 41-year-old Shinji Aoba of Saitama Prefecture, near Tokyo. Officers apprehended Aoba about 100 meters from the building after the blaze started.

Aoba suffered burns to various parts of his body. He later told police, “Since [the studio] stole my novel, I poured out the liquid and set it ablaze.”

Seven years ago, Aoba was indicted for using a knife in a convenience store robbery. He was later handed a prison sentence of three and a half years. He is known to have mental health problems, police also said.

Aoba is currently unconscious in a hospital. Police plan to question him about the case once he recovers and determine whether he is connected to the threat received by the studio.

Shinji Aoba served a prison term for robbing a convenience store in 2012
Shinji Aoba served a prison term for robbing a convenience store in 2012 (Twitter)

“Turned to charcoal”

Also on Friday, mourners and anime fans arrived at the studio. They left bottles of water, tea and flowers near the building, whose yellow outer walls are now largely black.

“It is unbearable to see that everything has turned to charcoal, even the work desks,” Kyoto Animation president Hideaki Hatta told public broadcaster NHK.

Hideto Ueda, the chief of the Kyoto Prefectural Police, also visited the site. “This crime is unprecedented and unforgivable,” Ueda said to reporters.

At around 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, a male intruder was seen entering through the entrance of the studio on the first floor. He splashed around what appeared to be gasoline from a bucket and set it afire.

Hatta also NHK that the entrance of the building was not locked since people come and go in the morning. Police believe the perpetrator carried the gasoline to the site in cans and transferred it to the bucket.

Outside the building, police apprehended the man later identified as Aoba. Prior to the arrival of officers, a woman from a nearby residence hosed him down after finding him on fire, the Mainichi Shimbun reported.

A studio of Kyoto Animation in Kyoto City was set on fire on Thursday
A studio of Kyoto Animation in Kyoto City was set on fire on Thursday (Twitter)

“Wet towels over their mouths”

Persons fleeing the blaze managed to receive first aid from a nearby garage. “There must have been fewer than 10 of them. Most of them were barefoot. I placed wet towels over their mouths because they were gasping [for air],” a woman in the garage told NHK.

A man told the broadcaster that he used a metal bar to break other bars covering a window to free three young women trapped inside the building. “After that there was too much smoke,” he told the broadcaster. “I couldn’t get near the window.”

Established in 1981, Kyoto Animation has made a significant mark on the industry through a number of popular television series, including “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya” and “K-On!”

“The company started as a modest subcontractor and built on its experience diligently, one step at a time,” president Hatta said. “It became what it is today thanks to the employees —- and now it appears they are gone. How can I come to terms with this?”