KYOTO – A survivor has recounted his experience of jumping out of a Kyoto Animation Co. studio after a man set fire to the building last week, killing 34 people.
The 52-year-old employee was drawing landscapes on the second floor of the three-story building on the morning of July 18. There were about 20 to 30 people on that floor, he said.
At around 10:30 a.m. the employee heard a woman screaming, followed by what sounded like the roar of a big motorcycle engine.
A colleague rushed up from the first floor yelling “Fire!” and the studio alarm sounded. Thick black smoke spewed out from the spiral staircase just over ten seconds later.
“I have to escape,” he told himself. He crouched down and felt his way through the dark to the balcony a few meters away. There were already around a dozen other employees there, leaning over the railings and screaming for help.
Looking down, the man saw a person engulfed in flames and another who had jumped down laying on the ground 5 meters below the balcony.
He thought he would “either die in the smoke or jump and get seriously injured.” As the man struggled to decide, he heard others from below encouraging him, with one person shouting, “It’s all right. You can jump. You can do it!”
He jumped off the balcony for his life, hitting both of his arms on impact, but sustained only minor injuries.
The man joined Kyoto Animation, also known as KyoAni, about 30 years ago, and saw the studio grow as its productions slowly gained recognition around the world.
“All the acquired know-how, everything that money can’t buy, was destroyed in an instant” by the arson attack, he said.
“I just think, ‘How dare you,’ ” he said, referring to the 41-year-old suspect Shinji Aoba, who was hospitalized with severe burns after the incident. “All we can do is wait to find out why KyoAni was attacked and for the law to bring him to justice,” he said.
He was both professionally and personally close to some of his colleagues, and has been unable to contact them following the incident.
“I want to recover and create high-quality works again,” the survivor said. “That would be a nice tribute to my colleagues who lost their lives.”
Officials have continued to search for an explanation as to why a blaze ripped so quickly through the famed animation company’s studio, amid reports that smoke spread so fast that most of the victims who tried to flee through a rooftop door could not open it in time to escape.
Kyoto police said that of the 26 people whose autopsy results have been released, 20 burned to death, three suffered carbon monoxide poisoning and two suffocated. The cause of death for one was undetermined. Previous reports had indicated that most were likely killed by smoke.