Witnesses report arsonist said “They stole my novel, so I set the fire.”

A day after an arsonist attacked a studio belonging to anime production company Kyoto Animation, 17 people, including the arsonist, remain hospitalized. 18 victims have gone home after receiving medical care, but 33 employees [since this article’s initial publishing, that number has risen to 35], 12 men, 20 women, and one of undetermined gender, will never be able to do so, having perished in the mid-morning attack on their three-floor workplace (picture above, before the fire) in Kyoto’s Fushimi Ward.

A total of 76 workers were inside the building when the attacker, a 41-year-old man entered the first floor lobby shortly after 10:30 on Thursday and shouted “Die!” before igniting gasoline that he had brought with him, causing such a violent fire that an explosion occurred. Only seven people escaped without harm, and rescue workers found deceased victims throughout the building, including 19 dead whose bodies had crumpled atop each other in a pile in the stairway connecting to the roof, having apparently succumbed to flames or smoke inhalation while attempting to flee to the top of the building.

Previous witness reports say that as the arsonist was being taken into custody by police, he shouted ”pakuri”, a term used to describe copying/plagiarizing a creator’s artistic work. Further statements now say the arsonist also said “They stole my novel, so I set the fire.”

Like many animation studios, Kyoto Animation’s anime works are often based on light novels, Japan’s equivalent to young adult fiction, and the company periodically grants awards to novels it feels are of excellent quality and even publishes light novels light novels through its KA Esuma Bunko label. The arsonist’s words suggest that he feels a novel he wrote was unfairly used, or had its elements copied, by Kyoto Animation. While the arsonist’s name has not yet been released, investigators say he was not a former employee of the company.

The arsonist’s ability to enter Kyoto Animation’s studio while carrying containers of gasoline is startling, especially in light of the fact that Kyoto Animation president Hideaki Hatta says the company has been receiving death threats for years. The studio did have security measures in place, though, in that employees had so scan a special ID card at the building’s entrance. However, on the day the attack took place, Kyoto Animation was planning to receive visitors (whether promotional media crews or potential clients has not been specified), and the security card system had been disabled to allow those coming for the meetings to enter the premises with less hassle.

The arsonist is still hospitalized for burns sustained in the attack and extensive police questioning is yet to take place, so it’s not known if the attack taking place on a day when the security system was disabled was a tragic coincidence, or if the arsonist somehow knew about the relaxed protocols and specifically timed his attack to coincide with them.

With a total of 69 dead or injured, Japan’s National Police Agency is calling this the worst fire since the start of the Heisei Period (1989), though a 2001 fire in Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighborhood, in which 44 people perished, remains its deadliest.

Sources: Mainichi Shimbun via Yahoo! News Japan via Jin, Kyoto Shimbun via Yahoo! News Japan
Top image: Wikipedia/MikeHattsu
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