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Police identify male patient as suspect in deadly arson at Osaka clinic

A 61-year-old male patient has been identified as the arson suspect in a fire at an Osaka mental health clinic that killed 24 people, Osaka Prefectural Police said Sunday.

The police identified Morio Tanimoto from a security camera inside the clinic, located on the fourth floor of the building in Osaka’s Kita Ward.

Morio Tanimoto | KYODO
Morio Tanimoto | KYODO

Tanimoto, who investigative sources say remains in critical condition, was among the 27 people taken to the hospital after the fire Friday raced through the clinic in a multiple tenant building in Osaka. Two people were also seriously hurt and one person suffered minor injuries.

According to police, two eyewitnesses saw Tanimoto place a paper bag on the floor near the doorway and kick it over immediately after arriving at the clinic alone. They also saw liquid that had leaked from the bag catch fire.

The police suspect that the liquid was highly volatile gasoline and are investigating the incident as a case of suspected murder and arson.

The fire at the building occurred at around 10:20 a.m. on Friday. It was completely put out 30 minutes later, after burning an area of around 25 square meters.

Firefighters found most of the victims unresponsive when they reached the site.

The police said they have yet to contact the clinic’s director, Kotaro Nishizawa, leading investigators to believe he might be one of the victims.

Keita Suzuki, one of Nishizawa’s acquaintances, said, “He is not the kind of person to earn the enmity of others. I hope he is safe.”

Police are investigating whether Tanimoto had any trouble with the clinic and are also trying to identify the 24 victims — 14 men and 10 women.

A mental health clinic in Osaka where a fire broke out on Friday in a suspected arson case | KYODO
A mental health clinic in Osaka where a fire broke out on Friday in a suspected arson case | KYODO

So far, the identities of six of the 24 fatal victims have been confirmed. The six were in their 20s to 40s, including Miyuri Nishimura, a 21-year-old staff member of the clinic.

The Osaka Prefectural Police carried out autopsies on 19 of the deceased and determined that five died of acute carbon monoxide poisoning.

About 30 minutes before the building fire, a minor fire occurred at Tanimoto’s home in Osaka’s Nishiyodogawa Ward about 3.5 kilometers away from the building. This fire is also suspected to have broken out in an arson attack. A patient identification card for the clinic was found at Tanimoto’s home.

“No one knows him around here,” said one of residents living near his home.

A woman in her 80s who lives nearby said the house had been vacant for many years, but recently a man was seen going in and out of the house. “I asked him, ‘Have you moved?’” and he said he had, the woman said.

On Friday, the clinic was scheduled to hold a group session for patients on temporary sick leave to help them get back to work.

Some of the victims may have been there to attend the session.

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