scorecardA teen girl who had her phone confiscated set her school dormitory on fire, police say. 19 children died.
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A teen girl who had her phone confiscated set her school dormitory on fire, police say. 19 children died.

Mia Jankowicz   

A teen girl who had her phone confiscated set her school dormitory on fire, police say. 19 children died.
PolicyPolicy2 min read
  • A teenager is accused 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.

A dormitory blaze that killed 19 children in Guyana was set by a teenage student who was upset that her cellphone had been taken away, officials say.

The fire broke out at the Mahdia Secondary School in the South American country late on Sunday. A statement from the Guyana Fire and Rescue Service said the blaze was "maliciously set."

National Security Adviser Gerald Gouveia told the Associated Press that the suspect in the incident, a pupil at the school, was accused of setting the dorm on fire after being disciplined for having a liaison 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," Mark Ramotar, Guyana Police's communications chief, said in a statement seen by the local news outlet Stabroek News.

The AP reported that the dormitory had been locked to stop the girls from sneaking out at night.

Gouveia told the AP that the house mother had been asleep inside the building and panicked when she could not find the keys to unlock the doors. She made it out but "lost her five-year-old child in the fire," he said.

When firefighters arrived, the wood-and-concrete building that housed the 57 children was "engulfed in flames," the fire service said.

The building's windows were heavily barred and five doors were locked, it added.

It said thirty-eight students made it out after firefighters broke holes in the wall and those who got out — including six severely injured children who were airlifted to Georgetown, Guyana's capital city — were receiving medical treatment.

The fire service shared a video of their efforts on Facebook:

An unnamed official said that the girl had admitted to setting the fire, Deutsche Welle reported.

The pupil accused of lighting the fire 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 would remain in juvenile detention after she recovered.

Police were 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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