Citing fire officials, Japanese public broadcaster NHK said Thursday night that 20 women and 12 men were killed in the blaze, as well as another person whose body was burned beyond identification. Although a suspect has been arrested and has reportedly admitted to setting the fire, a motive for the attack has not been disclosed. Japanese media said the man is not known to have any connection with the company.
Emergency services in Kyoto City received a call about 10:35 a.m. local time Thursday reporting an explosion on the first floor of the studio. The blaze quickly spread across the whole of the three-story building.
Local media reports said a man was seen inside the building spraying a flammable liquid, shouting, “Die!” and then igniting the fluid. The man, 41, was injured and is now in police custody. Multiple knives were found at the scene, but it is not known if they were his.
About 70 people were inside the building at the time of the blaze. NHK said that the bodies of 12 people were found on the first and second floors. The fire department said that an additional 10 people found on the third floor and on the stairs were in a state of cardiopulmonary arrest.
Kyoto Animation, better known as KyoAni, has been in operation since 1981 and is known as a producer of high-quality animation. These include TV series “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya” and “K-On!” The studio’s series adaptation of the “Tsurune” novel, written by Kotoko Ayano, recently completed airing on NHK.
KyoAni president Hideaki Hatta told reporters that the company had received regular death threats over the years. “These included recent emails sent to the sales department saying that we should die,” he said. The company advised its lawyers in each case.
Japan is used to natural disasters, with both earthquakes and tsunami waves as regular occurrences. But terrorism and extreme violence are very rare. The death toll in Kyoto far exceeds that of the infamous sarin gas attack on the Tokyo Metro in 1995 by members of the Aum Shinrikyo movement. That killed 12 people at the time, with another victim later dying after years of hospitalization.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe led an outpouring of public grief and sympathy. “Today, in the arson murder spree in Kyoto, there are many casualties. I’m speechless. I pray for the souls of those who have passed away. I would like to express my condolences to all of the injured and wish them a speedy recovery,” he said in Japanese on Twitter.
Apple chief Tim Cook called the attack “a tragedy felt far beyond Japan,” saying that KyoAni’s animators had “spread joy all over the world and across generations with their masterpieces.”