â€‹Investigators in Guyana suspect the blaze that killed 19 students, mostly girls, in a school dormitory was started by a schoolgirl who was disgruntled that mobile had been confiscated. At least nine persons are still hospitalised, several of them are in critical condition.
â€‹ The May 21 night fire was one of the deadliest in recent years for the South American country, destroying a secondary school in Mahdia, a gold-mining town about 200 miles south of Georgetown. The school mostly served youngsters aged 12 to 18, with most of the casualties belonging to the Indigenous community. A five-year-old boy and son of the housemother – the woman in charge of the dormitory – were among the victims.
Local law enforcement agencies said the blaze was “maliciously set,â€ and that the suspect was enraged that her phone had been taken away by the dormâ€™s mother and a teacher, as punishment for interacting with an older guy.
Local media reported that at the time of the fire, there were 57 female students in the one-flat concrete building whose windows were all grilled. Several students were awakened by screams and saw fire.
Five students were pronounced dead on arrival at the Mahdia Hospital and the bodies of 14 others were found in the debris. Most of the victims died after being trapped in the burning building, but fire crews managed to rescue others by smashing through one of the walls.
National Security Adviser Gerald Gouveia told the Associated Press that the suspect student had threatened to set the dorm on fire after being disciplined for having a liason with an older man.
Police were expected to charge the man who had the relationship with the student with statutory rape because she was under 16, Gouveia said.
Guyana’s government has accepted offers from the U.S. to send forensic and other expert teams to help with the investigation, Gouveia said. The government also was sending specialists in DNA identification to help identify remains of 13 of the 19 victims who died at the scene.
President Irfaan Ali declared three days of national mourning. “This is a major disaster. It is horrible, it is painful,” he said in a press statement, reacting to the incident.