At least two people died Tuesday when an elderly man caught fire aboard a high-speed train in Japan in what the New York Times reports “appeared to be a deliberate act of self-immolation.”
Another 26 people were injured in the fire, which reportedly started aboard a high-speed Shinkansen train about 50 miles outside of Tokyo. Both the man on fire and a female passenger riding in the same car were pronounced dead at the scene. Police think the woman may have died from smoke inhalation.
“I heard screams, and someone was shouting, ‘There’s a man spreading kerosene!’ ” a young woman who said she had been riding in the train’s second car told Fuji Television.
Witnesses described moments of fear and panic as passengers in the lead car fled toward the rear or begged the man to stop. Some reported hearing passengers shout, “There are children on board!”
Several passengers said the man had appeared disoriented and wandered up and down the aisle of the lead car before he abruptly began emptying a large plastic jug of liquid around the cabin. A woman who said she was riding in that car told Japan’s national public broadcaster, NHK, that he had inexplicably placed several 1,000 yen notes, worth about $8 each, on her tray table, saying: “I found some money. Take it.”
The man’s motive is still unclear though it doesn’t appear he intended to harm others—one witness tells the Times he told her, “You’re in danger. Get out of here,” shortly before lighting himself on fire.