By Rachel DeSantis
July 18, 2019 at 09:55 AM EDT
JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images

A fire thought to be an arson attack ripped through a Japanese animation studio Thursday, killing at least 33 people in what was the country’s deadliest blaze in nearly two decades.

A Japanese police official confirmed that 33 people died in the fire at Kyoto Animation Co. in the city of Kyoto, according to The New York Times.

An additional 36 people were reportedly injured, including a 41-year-old male suspect, who allegedly poured a liquid around the studio before setting it aflame, CNN reported. The suspect was also allegedly carrying a backpack containing knives.

Local newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported that witnesses heard the suspect allegedly yell, “Die!” as he entered the building.

BUDDHIKA WEERASINGHE/AFP/Getty Images

Following the fatal fire, Kyoto Animation CEO Hideaki Hatta told reporters that his studio had previously received threats via email, but had responded “sincerely” each time, according to the Associated Press.

“Why on earth did such violence have to be used?” Hatta said.

Seventy people were in the Kyoto offices when the blaze erupted around 10:30 a.m. local time, according to the Times.

Kyoto fire department official Mikihide Daikoku told the AP firefighters found more than a dozen people presumed dead on the top floor of the three-story building, and others collapsed on stairs leading up to the roof.

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“Today, we had many casualties in a fatal arson attack that happened in Kyoto,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wrote on Twitter, as translated by the Times. “It is so horrifying that I am at a loss for words. I’d like to express my deepest condolences to the victims. I offer my thoughts to those who have been wounded and pray for their recovery, by even one day.”

The fire was reportedly the deadliest in the country since a 2001 blaze at a gambling club killed 44 people in Tokyo.

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Kyoto Animation was founded in 1981, and has produced popular anime series like K-On!, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Sound! Euphonium.

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