Investigators think suspect in Osaka arson tried to seal emergency exit before blaze

Security camera footage
Security camera footage shows a person believed to be Tanimoto on a bicycle with a bag attached to the rear rack in Fukushima Ward, Osaka City on Friday.

OSAKA — Officials investigating the fatal fire at a clinic in Kita Ward, Osaka City, said adhesive tape had been found on the outside of an emergency exit before the blaze in an apparent effort to seal the door.

According to sources, incriminating evidence was also seized at the home of suspect Morio Tanimoto, 61.

The Osaka Prefectural Police suspect Tanimoto may have tried to seal the exit so that he would be killed in the fire with his victims.

The fire broke out at 10:20 a.m. Friday at the Nishi-Umeda Kokoro to Karada no Clinic on the fourth floor of an eight-story multitenant building.

According to the police, Tanimoto allegedly placed a paper bag containing a container of gasoline on the floor near the clinic’s reception desk, kicked it over, and used a lighter to ignite the leaking fuel.

The clinic had two access points, an elevator near the reception desk and a door leading to an emergency stairwell.

Clinic staff found adhesive tape on the outside of the door in the morning before the fire and removed it, according to the sources. Kotaro Nishizawa, the 49-year-old head of the clinic who died in the fire, apparently told his wife about the tape on the door before the blaze.

Police found a note at the suspect’s home in Nishiyodogawa Ward, Osaka City, on which he had written “How to fill the gaps” and “What about the fire hydrant?”

Two survivors who were near the reception desk escaped through the emergency exit.

Similarities with KyoAni attack

A newspaper article published in July about a fatal arson at a Kyoto Animation studio in 2019 was also found at the suspect’s residence. Gasoline was used in the Kyoto attack, in which 36 people died.

About 30 minutes before the clinic fire, a fire broke out at the suspect’s three-story home, burning part of one floor.

When the police searched the residence, they found newspaper clippings related to the 2019 Kyoto attack near the part of the house that had burned. They also found articles about other arson cases.

The attack at Kyoto Animation’s No. 1 Studio in Fushimi Ward, Kyoto City, in July 2019 claimed the lives of 36 employees and others and seriously injured 32.

Shinji Aoba, 43, allegedly purchased about 40 liters of gasoline at a gas station, before taking it to the animation studio and igniting the fuel near the first-floor entrance of the studio.

Aoba has been charged with murder.

Before the Osaka blaze, Tanimoto purchased about 10 liters of gasoline at a gas station, where he presented identification documents and claimed that he needed the fuel for his motorcycle.

A 2-liter polyethylene container with liquid believed to be gasoline was found at his home.

Police suspect he filled several containers with the gasoline he had bought and took them to the clinic to start the fire.

A man believed to be Tanimoto was captured cycling toward the clinic with what looks like a paper bag attached to a bicycle rack in security camera footage, which the police have confirmed.

Death toll rises to 25

The Osaka Prefectural Police said Tuesday a victim in her 20s has been pronounced dead at a hospital, increasing the death toll from the clinic fire to 25.

According to the police, the woman was taken to the hospital in a state of cardiopulmonary arrest and was undergoing treatment. She died at around 2:50 a.m. on Tuesday.

The police, who are yet to confirm the woman’s identity, said a judicial autopsy would be conducted to verify the cause of death.