A school dormitory was set ablaze, killing 19 children, allegedly by a student who was upset that school officials confiscated her cell phone, police in Guyana reported. “A female student is suspected of having set the devastating fire because her cellular phone was taken away by the dorm’s mother and a teacher,” police said in a statement, according to TheBlaze.
The mayor of Mahdia, Guyana, where the school is located, confirmed that the student who was allegedly the perpetrator was not injured in the fire. The police statement did not mention whether the child was arrested, and her age was not reported.
Students reportedly told investigators they were awakened by screams before they saw fire and smoke in the bathroom area, according to police.
Firefighting officials, who also said the fire was “maliciously set,” arrived after 10:15 p.m. at the dormitory, where a reported 56 children were staying. The fire was already out of control upon their arrival, with the building “completely” engulfed in flames. Firefighters were able to rescue about 20 students, however, “by breaking holes in the northeastern wall of the building,” according to CNN.
David Adams, the mayor of Mahdia, the town where the school is located, earlier confirmed the student’s alleged involvement to Reuters and said she was not injured in the fire.
He added he could not confirm whether the student was in government custody. The police statement did not mention an arrest. Some students told investigators they were awakened by screams and saw fire and smoke in the dorm’s bathroom area, police said.
The government pathologist who conducted post-mortems on six bodies late on Monday listed their cause of death as smoke inhalation and burns, police added.
Thirteen sets of remains had been moved to the capital Georgetown for DNA identification. Nearly 30 other children were hospitalised. Minister of Education Priya Manickchand earlier declined to discuss the student’s alleged involvement.
Asked about allegations that the dormitory was not outfitted with a modern fire alarm system and that students were not trained in fire drills, Manickchand told Reuters “all of that is under investigation and a report will be issued once that is done. What must come of this is improvement across the sector.”
The Amerindian Peoples Association [APA] said they were “heartbroken” by the news of the fire in a statement, adding that it “is important to note that while the secondary school is located in the township of Mahdia, it also housed students from indigenous communities from the wider area.
“The dormitory was housing for students from villages outside of Mahdia and thus far, victims have been identified from the indigenous communities of Micobie, Chenapou and Karisparu,” the statement said.
Guyana’s President Mohamed Ifran Ali said earlier that the students not only hailed from Mahdia, but also came from the villages of Campbelltown, Micobie, El Paso, and several other villages in the North Pakaraimas.
Children who require immediate medical attention will receive it, according to a statement from Guyana’s president. and all other individuals who remain injured and traumatized will be given with medical and psychological assistance.
The Guyanese government earlier mobilized a “full-scale medical evacuation-supported response” after the fire broke out. In an initial statement, the government said the “Cabinet is being briefed and kept updated on a horrific fire at the dormitory in Mahdia.” Bad weather had complicated the early response, the statement added.
Authorities are attempting to locate some of the victims’ parents, Ali said. “This is a major disaster. This is horrific, it’s painful. And many responses have to occur at the same time. So, we’re putting all of that in place,” Ali said at a press conference on Monday morning.