KYOTO • Many victims of an arson attack on a Japanese animation studio were young with bright futures, some joining only in April, said the company president yesterday, as the death toll climbed to 34.
Thursday's attack on Kyoto Animation, well known for its television series and movies, was Japan's worst mass killing in two decades.
It was all the more poignant because most of the victims were young people, in a country where the population is among the world's oldest.
Many of the victims of the attack, in the ancient capital of Kyoto, were young women, said company president Hideaki Hatta.
"Some of them joined us only in April. And on July 8, I gave them a small, but their first, bonus," he said.
"People who had a promising future lost their lives. I don't know what to say. Rather than feeling anger, I just don't have words," said a visibly shaken Mr Hatta.
Fifteen of the victims were in their 20s and 11 were in their 30s, said public broadcaster NHK. Six were in their 40s and one was at least 60. The age of the latest victim, a man who died in hospital, was not known. The names of the victims have not been disclosed.
The studio had about 160 employees with an average age of 33.
Police confirmed the identity of the suspect as Shinji Aoba, 41, but declined further comment. Aoba lives in a modest, two-floor apartment building 500km from Kyoto, in a rural suburb just outside Omiya, a commuter hub north of Tokyo.
A 27-year-old neighbour said Aoba had once grabbed him and yelled at him over a noise dispute.
"He started yelling at me to my face to shut up. He grabbed me by the collar and started pulling my hair. It was terrifying," the neighbour said.
Aoba had been convicted of robbery in the past and is suspected of carrying out the arson attack because he believed his novel had been plagiarised, Japanese media have said.
But Mr Hatta said he had no idea about any plagiarism claim, adding that he had not seen any correspondence from the suspect.
People living near the studio said they saw a man fitting Aoba's description in a nearby park the day before the incident. Police suspect that he may have spent a day or more in the area to prepare for the attack.
The Japanese authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Aoba, who is now hospitalised for heavy burns at a university hospital in nearby Osaka, NHK reported.
Mr Rui Yamaguchi, who works in a factory nearby, said he saw the suspect when he was detained.
"He looked like a mannequin with no hair and was blackened. One side of his pants around the calf was missing. It looked like it was burnt off," he said.