An Osaka fire suspect has been identified, buildings to be inspected

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TOKYO – Japanese police on Sunday identified a 61-year-old man as the prime suspect in a fire that engulfed a mental health clinic in an eight-story building where he was a patient, killing 24 people trapped in the fire. ‘interior.

The government also announced plans to inspect tens of thousands of similar buildings across the country. Authorities believe the death toll in the downtown Osaka building on Friday was largely because the fire rendered its only emergency staircase unusable.

Osaka police, who are investigating the case as arson and murder, identified the man as Morio Tanimoto. He is being treated in serious condition after being rescued from the fire, police said. He has not been formally arrested or charged.

After checking security cameras and searching his home, police said they suspected Tanimoto was responsible for setting fire to the clinic where patients were receiving consultations and treatment for psychiatric conditions, a research department official said. from the prefecture police to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Images from security cameras broadcast by NHK television showed what he said was the suspect who was heading to the clinic on Friday morning with a backpack and riding a bicycle with bags in a front basket and something bulky. tied to the back. The man in the picture was wearing a surgical mask and a baseball cap hiding his face.

Kyodo News said Tanimoto was a metal worker. His former boss at a factory where he worked in 2002-2010 described him as diligent and skillful. He resigned without saying what his plans were, he said. Tanimoto graduated from his father’s sheet metal factory in Osaka after finishing high school, but left after his brother took over the business and later changed jobs many times, Kyodo said.

Some of his neighbors interviewed by local media describe him as a gray-haired man who rode a bicycle and barely spoke.

The “Nishi Umeda Mind and Body Clinic” was located on the fourth floor of an eight-story building in the bustling Kitashinchi business district of Osaka, and was known for its mental health support in the workplace.

Police searched Tanimoto’s home on Saturday and found the patient card for the clinic.

Authorities are investigating how the smoke filled the ground so quickly that it left the victims trapped. The fire that burned just 25 square meters (270 square feet) of the floor near the reception was extinguished mostly in 30 minutes.

On Sunday, Home Affairs and Communications Minister Yasushi Kaneko, who is also in charge of fire and disaster management, said he had ordered a nationwide inspection of some 30,000 commercial buildings with three or more floors. but only a ladder.

Kaneko said many victims were unable to escape and died because the only staircase in the Osaka building was inaccessible due to the fire and they got lost while looking for a way out. He said the ministry will set up an expert group to discuss security measures.

Police cited witnesses who saw a man entering the clinic with a paper bag, which he laid on the floor right next to a heater at the front desk, and then kicked him. Liquid spilled, caught fire and the area burst into flames and smoke.

A security camera at the clinic captured the scene, in which the man standing at the entrance is seen as if blocking the passage, NHK television said.

Witnesses and the investigation suggested that the victims ran out of air and had difficulty getting out of the clinic. It was found that most had collapsed as they went to the other end of the clinic, only to find that there was no alternative way out.

The clinic, which also lacked an external staircase, had several small rooms for consultations and workshops along a single corridor, with the main meeting room at the end of the floor. There were no previous records of violations of the fire prevention codes in the building, officials said.

Two visitors who witnessed the start of the fire at the reception were able to run away.

Firefighters initially found 27 people in a state of cardiac arrest, including three who were resuscitated, authorities said. A fourth survivor was shot down by an air ladder from a sixth-floor window with a minor injury.

Some of the clinic’s clients who spoke to Japanese media said it was popular and was always full of up to 20 people waiting, especially on Fridays, when there was advice and special programs available for those preparing to return to Japan. work after sick leave.

Clinic psychiatrist Kotaro Nishizawa has not been contacted since the fire.

Over the weekend, Osaka residents brought flowers, bottled water, and canned beverages as offerings to the spirits of the dead outside the building.

The fire was a shocking reminder of the 2019 attack on the Kyoto Animation studio, in which an attacker entered and set fire to the building, killing 36 people and injuring more than 30 others. The incident shocked Japan and caused an outpouring of pain among anime fans around the world. In 2001, a deliberate fire in Tokyo’s Kabukicho Entertainment District killed 44 people, the worst known case of a domestic fire in the country in modern times.

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