The suspected arson attack on Kyoto Animation on Thursday has left anime fans world-over grieving the loss of life and a studio, which claimed to put its employees first and was a major force in the industry.
Twelve men, 20 women and another individual whose gender was unknown died in the blaze and 35 were injured.
After dousing flames, firefighters entered the building Thursday morning and found 20 bodies lying on on the staircase between the third floor and fourth floor roof exit. Another team found 11 bodies on the second floor of the building and two on the ground floor.
Police said that 74 people were inside the building, in Kyoto’s Fushimi-ku district, at the time of the blaze, including employees of the company.
The fire spread so rapidly that many inside did not have time to escape, Kyoto Prefectural police told CNN. Several people jumped out of the second and third floor windows and suffered bone fractures.
Anime fans and mourners Friday began visiting the building and laid flowers in tribute to those who had lost their lives.
“I was so encouraged by the KyoAni works,” said one young fan, calling the studio by its popular name. “I have no words to say in sorrow.”
The fire started at Kyoto Animation’s 1st Studio at 10:30 a.m. local time on Thursday (9:30 p.m. ET) after a 41-year-old suspect began pouring what appeared to be gasoline on the first floor of the studio before setting it alight.
Police said a local resident reported hearing an explosion-like sound coming from the building around the time the fire broke out.
A witness told police the suspect shouted “Die!” as he spilled the unidentified liquid. A backpack containing several knives and two canisters of the gasoline-like liquid were discovered near the site, according to Kyoto police.
As flames tore through the building an employee ran to report the fire. On his return, he saw the suspect lying on the ground about 100 meters away from the studio, police told CNN.
The suspect, who suffered heavy burns to his face, legs, arms and torso, asked officers who had arrived to apprehend him “are you going to arrest me?”
Police have cautioned that they need to wait until the suspect is formally interviewed before confirming a motive. Officers were not able to question the suspect on Thursday as he was receiving treatment for severe burns sustained during the attack.
Footage from the scene Thursday showed thick smoke billowing out of the four-story building, which is located in a residential area several kilometers south of Kyoto Station. It took four hours for firefighters to bring the blaze under control.
Fire department officials confirmed that the building abided by fire prevention regulations.
‘A terrible loss for both humanity and art’
Kyoto Animation’s CEO Hideaki Yata told reporters the company had received death threats by mail, which had been sent to the police, and expressed sorrow that workers in the industry had been targeted.
“They are the people who carry the Japan’s animation industry on their shoulders. I can’t bear to accept the fact they are being hurt or losing their lives,” he said.
Founded in 1981, Kyoto Animation — known as KyoAni — has made a name for itself producing high quality animations that draw on both the mystical and the mundane.
Among Japan’s better-known studios, its popular works include “Free!,” manga series “K-On!,” the anime TV adaptation of “the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya” and “Violet Evergarden,” which Netflix picked up in 2018.
On its website, the company said its philosophy included promoting a “humanitarian” corporate culture and “promoting the growth of people.”
The studio also operated a school for animators.
Napier said the destruction was “a significant loss, both in terms of the terrific tragedy of human life and the lost creative work that may have been stored in the studio over its almost 40-year existence.”