The fire that ripped through a boarding school dorm in Guyana and killed 19 children, all but one of them Indigenous girls, was deliberately set by a student angry that her cell phone had been confiscated, authorities said Tuesday.
The fire broke out at 10:50 p.m. Sunday in a bathroom area, authorities said. Deputy Fire Chief Dwayne Scotland said at the time that the fire was “intentionally set,” a conclusion that investigators confirmed on Tuesday.
“When firefighters arrived on the scene, the building was already completely engulfed in flames,” Guyana’s Fire Service said in a statement. “Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the relatives and friends of those young souls.”
Several students were injured, some critically, and nine were still hospitalized on Tuesday. All but one of the victims were Indigenous girls aged 12 to 18, officials said. The other fatality was the 5-year-old son of the house mother. The suspected arsonist was among the injured.
The secondary school is in the border town of Mahdia, about 200 miles south of the capital, Georgetown. Most of the students come from remote, mostly Indigenous villages in the South American Nation. Three of the dorm’s 59 residents were away for the weekend.
The dorm administrator had locked the building’s five doors for the night to prevent students from sneaking out, which trapped them once the fire ravaged the wood, concrete and iron grillwork structure, Police Chief Clifton Hicken said. Firefighters rescued about 20 of the students by breaking through a wall.
The dorm administrator had disciplined the student in question for having an affair with an older man, National Security Adviser Gerald Gouveia told The Associated Press.The girl set the fire in a bathroom after threatening to torch the dorm.
“The house mother was asleep at the time inside the building but panicked and could not find the right keys to unlock the building from inside, but she made it out,” Gouveia said.
The man who had the relationship with the minor student is expected to be charged with statutory rape, Gouveia said.
“This is a horrific incident. It’s tragic. It’s painful,” Guyana’s president Irfaan Ali said Monday. “This is the saddest day of my life as president. I wish it had not occurred.”