• Kyodo

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Police arrested a 40-year-old man Monday for allegedly setting fire to his own home in Kitsuki, Oita Prefecture, where four bodies, believed to be his children, were found amid the burned wreckage.

Kenichiro Suemune, a member of the Maritime Self-Defense Force, admitted to committing arson, investigators said.

Four of his children aged 5 to 14, out of a total of eight children, have been missing since late Sunday after the fire gutted their two-story house.

Police and fire department sources said someone phoned 119 at 11:55 p.m. to report the fire at the home in a residential area about 1 km from JR Kitsuki Station. The fire was extinguished an hour and 40 minutes later, they said.

According to the fire department, the family consisted of Suemune, his wife and eight children. The couple and a 3-year-old daughter were rushed to a hospital. All were conscious and none of their injuries was considered life-threatening.

The daughters Yukari, 14, and Mayumi, 7, and sons Masahiro, 9, and Shigeru, 5, were missing, the police said.

According to the MSDF, Suemune was stationed at Etajima, Hiroshima Prefecture while his family remained in Oita.

A 50-year-old woman living next door said she was awakened by an explosion and heard members of the Suemune family yelling “hurry up and put out the fire” and “jump.”

“It’s a fire. Help me. Put it out, fast,” a boy reportedly yelled.

The mother poured a bucket of water on her head and tried to enter the burning house, calling the name of one of the daughters, witnesses said.

But the flames had already engulfed the home. Neighbors reportedly grabbed fire extinguishers and rushed to help, and Suemune tried in vein to hose down the fire.

“I’d seen the father and children walking together on weekends . . . I’m just so surprised,” said a 30-year-old woman who lives nearby.

According to one witness, the father said “it’s my fault” as he tried to enter the burning home to rescue the children.

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