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 Reuters.
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.
It took firefighters three hours to control the blaze.
Guyana’s Department of Public Information announced that 13 girls and a little boy died at the scene and five others died in the hospital. Six of the deaths were reported as caused by smoke inhalation and burns. The youngest victim was a 5-year-old boy, who was also the son of the dormitory’s caretaker. A reported 30 children were still in the hospital.
The minister of education, Priya Manickchand, was asked by Reuters about allegations that the dormitory did not have a modern fire alarm system, as well as the notion that the children were not trained in proper fire drills. The minister replied that “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.”
President of Guyana, Irfaan Ali, met with some families of the deceased after visiting children in the hospital and subsequently declared three days of national mourning.
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