Japanese police on Sunday identified a 61-year-old man as a prime suspect behind a fire that engulfed a mental clinic in an eight-story building where he was a patient, killing 24 people who were trapped inside.
The government also announced plans to inspect tens of thousands of similar buildings nationwide. Authorities believe the massive death toll at the downtown Osaka building on Friday was largely because the fire made its only emergency stairway unusable.
Osaka police, which are investigating the case as arson and murder, identified the man as Morio Tanimoto. He is being treated in serious condition after he was rescued from the fire, police said. He has not been formally arrested or charged.
After verifying security cameras and searching his home, police said they suspect Tanimoto was responsible for setting fire to the mental clinic, an official at the prefectural police investigation department told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Kyodo News said Tanimoto was a retired metal worker. His former employer at the factory where he worked 2002-2010 described him as diligent and skilled. He quit without saying what he was up to, he said. Tanimoto trained at his father’s sheet metal factory in Osaka after finishing high school, but left after his brother took over the business and kept changing jobs, Kyodo said.
Some of his neighbors interviewed by local media described him as a gray-haired man who used to bicycle and hardly spoke.
“Nishi Umeda clinic for the mind and body” was on the fourth floor of an eight-story building in Osaka’s bustling business district of Kitashinchi, and was known for its support for mental health at work.