Sunday’s late-night inferno killed 19 people, many of whom were indigenous students from rural parts of the country.
Officials in Guyana have revealed that it was a student who allegedly started a deadly fire that tore through the dormitory of a girls’ dormitory, killing 19 people.
The fire, which started on Sunday evening, was one of the deadliest in recent years for the South American country. About nine people remain in hospital, many in serious condition.
National Security Adviser Gerald Gouveia told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the fire started with a teenage student who was upset that her cell phone had been confiscated after it was discovered that she was having an affair with an older man.
Gouveia explained that the student, who is under the age of 16, started the fire in the bathroom area of the residence. Leslie Ramsammy, an adviser to Guyana’s Ministry of Health, confirmed that the suspect is being treated for burns at the hospital and is expected to be released into juvenile detention.
Gouveia added that the man allegedly involved in a relationship with the student is expected to be charged with statutory rape.
News of the suspect’s identification was echoed by the mayor of Mahdia, the gold mining town where the boarding school is located. “I can confirm that the fire was started by a student,” Mayor David Adams told the news agency Reuters on Tuesday.
Police treated the inferno as suspicious, after an initial investigation suggested it was “maliciously set”.
Many of the victims were indigenous girls between the ages of 12 and 18 who came from towns like Madhia, as well as towns like Micobie, Campbelltown and El Paso.
Five of the 19 killed died in the Mahdia District Hospital, while the others died at the school itself. The youngest person to die was the hostel warden’s five-year-old son.
Clifton Hicken, Guyana’s police commissioner, said 13 bodies were referred for DNA identification after they were badly charred. Post-mortems have been completed on the six others, he added.
In the wake of the fire, President Irfaan Ali declared three days of national mourning. “This is a huge disaster. It’s terrible, it’s painful,” he said in a press release. He has since met with some of the parents of the deceased.
The fire quickly tore through the southwestern part of the Mahdia Secondary School, located about 320 km (200 miles) south of the capital Georgetown.
Gouveia, the national security adviser, said the residence was closed for the night to ensure that the students did not sneak out.
The caretaker slept while the fire grew rapidly, Gouveia explained, and when she woke up, she panicked and struggled to find the right keys to open the door.
Guyana’s Fire and Rescue Service said they received a call at around 11:15 p.m. local time (3:15 GMT Monday) on Sunday. “It took the firefighters four minutes to get to the scene,” a government press release explained. “However, the building was completely engulfed in flames.”
Firefighters were nevertheless able to save about 20 people by breaking holes in the walls of the building to pull students to safety.
Leave a Reply