Guatemalan Orphanage Fire Death Toll: At Least 19 Killed, Dozens Injured
Mar 10 2017
At least 19 people died in a fire at a shelter for abused children in Guatemala today, firefighters said.
Most appeared to have died of burns in the fire that occurred in the Virgin of the Assumption Safe Home in San Jose Pinula, 10 km east of Guatemala City, officials said.
The head of Guatemala's national police says the blaze was started by a group of young people who had been isolated by the authorities after a riot and an escape attempt at the centre on Tuesday.
The deaths "make us ask ourselves, as a state, what are we doing?" former attorney general Thelma Aldana said, according to news reports.
It takes in youths up to the age of 18 who are homeless or victims of abuse, but has also been functioning as a juvenile detention centre. Sixty children escaped and police were eventually forced to intervene.
"We are deeply saddened by the tragic deaths of more than 20 girls in the Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción shelter in Guatemala as a result of a fire in which many others were injured".
The fire was believed to have started during an overnight rebellion in the center, which holds almost double the four hundred people it was created to house. Plagued by Latin America's worst rates of child malnutrition and street gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha that often prey on minors, the country can be a challenging place to grow up.
Burnt bodies partially covered in blankets were strewn across the floor of a blackened room in the home, pictures posted to Twitter by the firefighters showed. "I still don't have information", she said, as she waited outside the building on Wednesday.
Pablo Castillo, a spokesman for Guatemalan police, told Reuters that 38 children had been transferred to local hospitals with burns, some of them severe.
Overcrowding is a common problem in public institutions in Guatemala, including in particular prisons.
In Guatemala's Congress, lawmakers held a minute of silence for the victims of the fire before demanding those in charge of the centre be dismissed. "I want justice for him". Some allege they have been mistreated or sexually abused.