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Arson-hit Kyoto anime received about 200 death and other threats, some naming workers

Security footage shows a man believed to be suspect Shinji Aoba pushing a handcart on a street near the head office of Kyoto Animation Co. in the city of Uji, Kyoto Prefecture, on July 17, 2019, the day after he is suspected to have made a preparatory visit of the site. (Security camera image)

Investigations into the arson attack that gutted anime production company Kyoto Animation Co.'s 1st Studio on July 18 have revealed the firm received around 200 death and other threats last year, sent to them via a contact form on their official site, according to officials.

While Kyoto Prefectural Police officials believe the same person wrote the threats, they say it is not possible to ascertain this.

Bundles of flowers and other items left by residents and others for the victims of the fire at Kyoto Animation's 1st Studio are seen outside the building in Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, on July 20, 2019, after they were moved to a cordoned-off area. (Mainichi/Yoshiyuki Hirakawa)

The suspected arsonist, Shinji Aoba, 41, who faces arrest on a range of possible offenses including murder, is alleged to have held a strong grudge that led him to attack the company. Police will search the suspect's home for information in connection with the death threats.

According to an official connected to the case, many of the messages initially contained slander and threats, but gradually changed to death threats naming specific members of the company. Around October 2018, the company went to the police about them.

Kyoto Prefectural Police investigated the matter under offenses relating to forcible obstruction of business. They also temporarily dispatched patrols to the company's head office in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture, and to the homes of employees. But nothing further happened at the time.

The composer of the messages used the anonymizing software "Tor" to avoid detection, and encrypted their communication, meaning the identity of the threats' author is still unknown.

Furthermore, Aoba has been hospitalized since shortly after the attack, and has been undergoing specialized burns treatment at a hospital in Osaka prefecture. His condition is so severe that police have not begun questioning him.

But more information about the lead up to the attack has been uncovered. According to information revealed from the police's investigation, Aoba stayed at an internet cafe near JR Kyoto Station on July 16, two days before the fire.

Shortly after he is believed to have stayed at the cafe, a man thought to be the suspect was seen loitering around the area close to the animation studio, according to multiple eyewitness reports to police.

Based on witness reports and information collected from the internet cafe the suspect is said to have stayed at, police believe that Aoba was visiting the site in advance to prepare for his attack.

According to the firm that manages the internet cafe, a man resembling the suspect stayed at their establishment on July 16 from about 10:30 a.m. to around 12:35 p.m. He reportedly used a driving license as identification to register at the cafe, selecting a seat with access to a computer.

Security cameras showed him entering and exiting the business with the same red T-shirt and backpack. He used a drink service while at the cafe and there were reportedly no issues while he was there.

No smartphone or other communicative device was found among Aoba's possessions. As it appears the suspect was not familiar with the local area, police believe he researched Kyoto Animation's details at the internet cafe before proceeding to its location.

Prefectural police also announced on July 23 that official autopsies on all 34 people confirmed dead had been completed.

Among them, around 80%, 26 people, were ruled to have died from burns. Four people lost their lives to carbon monoxide poisoning and another two to suffocation. One person died from full body burns, with the one remaining victim's cause of death currently unascertainable.

Kyoto Animation also announced on July 23 that it will open a bank account to receive support funds that have been raised by many companies in and outside Japan since the fire took place. The company said it has chosen to accept the money; details are on the company's website.

(Japanese original by Hiroshi Odanaka, Satoshi Fukutomi, Kanae Soejima, Yoko Kunimoto, Kyoto Bureau; Kentaro Suzuki, Gakken Uji Bureau; Hironori Tsuchie, City News Department; and Kosuke Yamamoto, Osaka City News Department)

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