19 children died after a girl set fire to their school dormitory, out of anger that school officials had taken away her cellphone. The act of arson occurred in a remote, mosquito-infested part of the South American country of Guyana, near gold and diamond mines. The girl “set the devastating fire because her cellular phone was taken away by the dorm’s mother and a teacher,” according to police.
The mayor of Mahdia, Guyana, where the school is located, confirmed that the student who was set the fire was not injured in the fire. The police statement did not mention whether the child was arrested, and her age was not reported.
Students told investigators they were awakened by screams before they saw fire and smoke in the bathroom area. Firefighters, who concluded that the fire was “maliciously set,” arrived after 10:15 p.m. at the dormitory, where 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.” It took them about three hours to get the blaze under control.
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 due to smoke inhalation and burns. The youngest victim was a 5-year-old boy, who was also the son of the dormitory’s caretaker. 30 children remain in the hospital.
The dormitory apparently did not have a modern fire alarm system. The country’s education minister says “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 country’s president, Irfaan Ali, met with some of the dead children’s next of kin after visiting recovering kids in the local hospital. He later declared three days of national mourning.