TOKYO – Police arrested on Wednesday the suspect in an arson attack on a Japanese animation studio in Kyoto that killed 36 people in July last year, following his sufficient recovery from burn injuries.
The suspect, identified as 42-year-old Shinji Aoba, has been hospitalized for the past 10 months after he sustained life-threatening burns in the attack, which also injured another 33 people.
Aoba, who police say has admitted to committing the crime and remains on a stretcher, needing assistance to feed and move, was transferred to a Kyoto police station for questioning, police said on Wednesday.
Police had planned to arrest the still largely bedridden Aoba around January, but plans were affected by the spread of the novel coronavirus and his unstable condition, according to investigative sources cited by Kyodo news agency.
After the arrest, Kyoto Animation issued a statement in which it said that the suspect’s actions and their results are what matter, and that no explanation nor apology will bring back the colleagues who lost their lives or heal the wounds of the survivors, according to national broadcaster NHK.
Families and friends of the deceased and injured as well as the staff at Kyoto Animation must continue to face the irreversible reality, it said, adding that the company believes the authorities will pursue criminal responsibility of the suspect to the maximum extent possible.
It is alleged that at around 10:30 am on July 18, 2019, the suspect splashed gasoline around the three-story building, before setting it alight.
Authorities believe that it was done with the intention of taking revenge for an idea that the suspect believed the studio had stolen from him.
The majority of the victims were aged between 20 and 30 years of age, most of whom were trapped in a stairwell while trying to reach the rooftop during the blaze.
On the day of the fire, 70 of the studio’s more than 170 employees were present in the building.
Two days after the attack, on July 20, police obtained an arrest warrant for Aoba for murder, arson and trespassing. The same day, Aoba was transferred from a hospital in Kyoto to another in Osaka with severe burns.
He was first questioned on Nov. 8, and a week later was transferred back to a hospital in Kyoto.
First Studio in the city’s Fushimi Ward is the center of anime production for the company, which is known for hiring and training aspiring young animators.
The fire, one of the deadliest in Japan in recent years, shocked the country and generated widespread support from fans of the studio and anime in general, including a fundraising campaign set up to keep Kyoto Animation afloat.
Kyoto Animation is known for series such as “K-On!” and “Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu” (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya) both in Japan as well as internationally.