Two days after the incident, the building where the fire broke out was still in a raw state.
The window frames on the fourth floor were burned, and the blackened interior could be seen from outside. The first floor was covered with blue sheets, and about ten police officers were on alert.
Just after 10:20 a.m. on December 17, a fire broke out on the fourth floor of the Dojima Kita Building (Sonezaki Shinchi, Kita-ku, Osaka City), located about 200 meters from JR Osaka Station. The fire was extinguished in about 30 minutes, but 27 people were taken to the hospital and 24 people died (as of December 19).
The cause of the fire is believed to be arson, and there was a psychosomatic medicine clinic on the fourth floor called Nishi Umeda Kokoro to Kata no Clinic. Immediately after the clinic started, a man in his 60s placed a paper bag in his hand on the floor near the reception desk and kicked it away. The liquid that flowed out of the bag ignited in the heating apparatus. The clinic is small, about 79 square meters, and was quickly enveloped in black smoke, which seems to have produced toxic fumes.
The only way to escape from the fourth floor was to go through the reception area and use the elevator or emergency stairs. The fire broke out near the reception desk, and patients and staff who had nowhere to escape collapsed one after another. …… Many of the victims who were carried out by the rushing firefighters had their bodies bent into a “ku” shape. Most of the deceased had no external injuries, and the cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning.
A premeditated crime with a well-thought-out schedule?
The suspected arsonist is Morio Tanimoto, 61, a resident of Nishiyodogawa Ward, Osaka City, who was a patient at the clinic. He himself was taken to the hospital in cardiopulmonary arrest and is in a critical state of unconsciousness. Knowing the structure of the building, he is believed to have started the fire near the reception desk to prevent patients and staff from escaping.
The clinic was supporting people suffering from depression and developmental disorders. Because it was located in a business district, many of the patients were middle-aged and older. The clinic was only open in the mornings on Tuesdays and Fridays, and was open until 10:00 p.m. in the afternoons for those who worked.
On the day of the incident, a “rework program” was scheduled for those who had taken a leave of absence to return to work. Therefore, there were more people visiting the clinic than usual. Tanimoto may have been aware of the situation.
The director of the clinic is Mr. Kotaro Nishizawa, 49, who is famous for his treatment of developmental disorders. According to his relatives, they have not been able to contact him.
What kind of doctor was Mr. Nishizawa? Shunya Tanaka, 56, who lived in Osaka City and had been visiting the clinic until just before the incident, said.
He is a humble doctor who never gives advice from the top, and he treats patients very carefully. He is not the kind of person who causes trouble. I don’t know why he set himself on fire. ……
I used to work in the travel industry, but about three years ago, I was harassed and developed depression. I was very ill, as if I was living in total darkness all the time. The doctor listened to me very carefully and then said, “Take a break. Please rest. Take your time. Those words helped me a lot, as I was troubled and felt ashamed of myself for not being able to do anything. ……
I also participated in the “rework program,” which helped me feel better knowing that there were many others who were suffering in the same way. I realized that I didn’t have to push myself too hard. I was really saved. I am the person I am today because of you. I hope you can stay alive somehow.
An unprecedented fire incident claimed the lives of a reputable doctor and a large number of innocent patients and staff. The police will wait for Tanimoto’s recovery and investigate to find out the motive.
Photographed by： Takuma Arimura, Takashi Yamazaki