Yukie Nishizawa / AP
OSAKA, Japan – Japanese police raided the home of one of the patients at a mental health clinic on Saturday, where a fire destroyed an entire floor of an eight-story building, killing 24 people trapped inside.
An Osaka Police investigator told The Associated Press the man was a possible suspect. A small fire broke out about half an hour before the building fire at the man’s home, where a patient registration card was found, the investigator said.
He is believed to be one of three people who survived and were in serious condition. The police haven’t arrested anyone and it may take some time until the man recovers enough to be questioned.
According to witnesses interviewed by Japanese media, a man entered the clinic in downtown Osaka, carrying a paper bag, which he put on the floor, right next to a radiator near the reception, and kicked him. A liquid spilled out, caught fire, and the whole ground was in flames and smoke.
Testimonies suggest the victims gasped and struggled to exit the clinic inside the eight-story building. There was only one way to escape as the elevator and emergency stairs were both outside the clinic, authorities said.
Police and firefighters returned to the site in the middle of Osaka’s main shopping district, Kitashinchi on Saturday. Media, including national television NHK, said they found traces of oil that could have been used in the blaze.
Chisato Tanaka / AP
Some experts were surprised at the death toll in a daytime fire that was extinguished more than an hour. Authorities are investigating how smoke filled the ground so quickly and the victims have found themselves trapped. There have been no prior violations of fire codes in the building, officials said.
There was no emergency exit in the clinic. The office had several compartments for consultations and workshops along a single aisle, with the main consultation room at the back of the floor.
One of the visitors who witnessed the start of the fire at reception was able to run out. It was still known exactly how many people were inside the clinic, the investigator said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The people of Osaka were in shock. Some brought flowers, bottled water and canned drinks as offerings to the spirits of the deceased outside the building.
Neighborhood retiree, Seki Kageyama, 77, returned to the site after discovering the large death toll from what he believed was a minor fire. A sign announcing the burnt down clinic on the fourth floor was still standing: âNishi Umeda Clinic for the Mind and Body of Workers.
“I thought a small fire had broken out,” he said. “I was really stunned when I heard that someone had set on fire and killed people there.”
More than 70 fire engines and ambulances participated in the extinguishing of the fire on Friday morning. Firefighters first found 27 people in cardiac arrest, including three who were resuscitated in hospitals, according to Osaka city firefighters.
A woman was shot by an aerial ladder from a window on the sixth floor.
Some of the clinic’s clients who spoke to Japanese media said the clinic was popular and was always crowded with up to 20 people waiting, especially on Fridays when special counseling and programs were available for those. who were preparing to return to work after sick leave.
The clinic’s psychiatrist, Kotaro Nishizawa, could not be reached since the fire.
In 2019 at Kyoto Animation studio, an attacker broke into the building and set it on fire, killing 36 people and injuring more than 30 others. The incident shocked Japan and sparked a wave of grief among anime fans around the world. In 2001, an intentionally set fire in Tokyo’s Kabukicho entertainment district killed 44 people – the worst case of arson in the country in modern times.