The dormitory of Mahdia Secondary School in Guyana after a massive blaze on May 21, 2023.Guyana Fire and Rescue Service
A teenager is suspected of setting a fire that killed 19 fellow students in Guyana, officials said.
She was angry that her phone was taken away as punishment for seeing an older man, police said.
Doors had been locked overnight to prevent girls from sneaking out, according to the fire service.
A dormitory blaze that killed 19 children in Guyana was set by a teenage student upset that her cellphone had been taken away, officials say.
The fire, at a boarding school in the South American country, broke out late on Sunday and was, per a statement from the country’s fire authorities, “maliciously set.”
National Security Adviser Gerald Gouveia told the Associated Press that the suspect, a pupil at Mahdia Secondary School, was alleged to have threatened to set the dorm on fire after being disciplined for having a liason with an older man.
“A female student is suspected of having set the devastating fire because her cellular phone was taken away by the dorm mother and a teacher,” Guyana Police communications chief Mark Ramotar said in a statement, per local news outlet Stabroek News.
A window frame of the dormitory of Mahdia Secondary School in Guyana after a massive blaze on May 21, 2023.Guyana Fire and Rescue Service
The dormitory had been locked to stop the girls from sneaking out at night, the AP reported.
Gouveia told the AP that the house mother was asleep at the time, inside the building, but that she panicked and could not find the right keys to unlock the doors. She made it out but “lost her five-year-old child in the fire,” he said.
By the time firefighters arrived, the wood-and-concrete building that housed the 57 children was “engulfed in flames,” the fire service statement said.
The building’s windows were heavily barred and five doors were locked, it added.
A hole in the side of the dormitory of Mahdia Secondary School in Guyana after a massive blaze on May 21, 2023.Guyana Fire and Rescue Service
Thirty eight students made it out, with firefighters breaking holes in the wall, it said. All of those who got out are receiving medical treatment, including six severely injured children who were airlifted to Georgetown, the country’s capital.
The fire service shared video of their efforts on Facebook:
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An unnamed official said that the girl had admitted to setting the fire, Deutsche Welle reported.
The suspect is under police supervision in hospital, the outlet said, with police considering whether to charge her.
Leslie Ramsammy, an adviser to the country’s health ministry, told the AP that the girl will remain in juvenile detention after she recovers.
Scraps of half-burned textbook pages found in the dormitory of Mahdia Secondary School in Guyana after a massive fire on May 21, 2023.Guyana Department of Public Information
Police are also looking to charge the man she was seeing with statutory rape, as she was under 16 at the time, the AP reported.
The fire has become a national tragedy in Guyana, with President Irfaan Ali declaring three days of mourning, according to DW.
Several countries have sent messages of support.
Guyana’s Home Affairs office has also said it is planning a national schools fire safety review, Stabroek News reported.
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Pezou–A teen girl who had her phone confiscated set her school dormitory on fire, police say. 19 children died.