GEORGETOWN, May 23 (Reuters) – A fire at a school dormitory in Guyana that has killed 19 children was started by a student after school authorities confiscated her mobile phone, police said on Tuesday.
The children, mostly Indigenous girls, died around midnight Monday, most at the scene.
“A female student is suspected of setting the devastating fire because her cell phone was taken away by the dorm’s mother and a teacher,” police said in a statement.
David Adams, the mayor of Mahdia, the town where the school is located, earlier confirmed the alleged involvement of the student to Reuters and said she was not injured in the fire.
He added that he could not confirm whether the student was in government custody. The police statement does not mention an arrest.
Some students told investigators they were woken up by screaming and saw fire and smoke in the dorm bathroom, police said.
The government pathologist who performed autopsies on six bodies on Monday night said the cause of death was smoke inhalation and burns, police added.
Thirteen sets of remains had been moved to the capital Georgetown for DNA identification. Nearly 30 other children were hospitalized.
Education Minister Priya Manickchand earlier declined to discuss the student’s alleged involvement.
Asked about allegations that the dormitory was not equipped with a modern fire alarm system and that the students were not trained in fire drills, Manickchand told Reuters “this is all subject to “An investigation and a report will be published once this is done. It is an improvement in the whole sector.”
Burn specialists, psychiatrists and other medical personnel were caring for the injured children and their families, she added.
The youngest of the dead was the dorm keeper’s five-year-old son. All of the other victims were girls and included multiple siblings and at least one set of twins.
President Irfaan Ali on Monday met relatives of those who died after visiting Mahdia hospital and declared three days of national mourning.
Reporting by Kiana Wilburg in Georgetown, writing by Julia Symmes Cobb and David Gregorio
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