Girl, 15, Faces Murder Charges, Accused of Setting a Deadly Dorm Fire After Her Phone Was Taken Away
The fire in Guyana killed 19 classmates and a 5-year-old boy earlier this month.
A 15-year-old girl in Guyana faces murder charges and is accused of setting fire to her school dormitory earlier this month in a fit of anger after her cellphone was taken away, resulting in the deaths of 20 children. The girl, who was not identified, was charged Monday in adult court with 19 counts of murder in the fire that occurred May 21 in a school in the Guyanese city of Mahdia. The government boarding school serves remote Indigenous villages in southwest Guyana. Here's what you need to know about this tragic incident.
The student was accused of setting the fire in anger after the dorm mother and a teacher confiscated her cellphone. She was also injured in the fire. She was treated and taken into custody at the Juvenile Holding Center in Guyana.
The death toll was initially 19 students and a 5-year-old boy. The school's students are aged 12 to 18. A 20th student, a 14-year-old girl, later died of her injuries at a Georgetown hospital, raising the total death toll to 20. The Mahdia Secondary School is in the mountains about 200 miles from the South American nation's capital of Georgetown.
The fire started shortly before midnight. The girl set the fire in the dormitory's bathroom, and it quickly spread throughout the rest of the building. The students were trapped inside the iron-grilled building as rescuers tried to pull them out. Rescuers pulled at least 20 from the building, and more than two dozen others were injured. The dorm administrator had previously locked the building's five doors from the inside to keep the students from sneaking out at night to socialize with adult men in the nearby mining town. As the fire raged, she fumbled with the keys to open the doors. Some 57 female students were inside locked bedrooms at the time.
Neighbors heard the students' screams and raced to the scene to help. Firefighters arrived to find the building already "well engulfed," Deputy Fire Chief Dwayne Scotland said. Crews smashed through walls to rescue students inside. Some 23 children were taken to hospitals in Mahdia and Georgetown. A critically injured student was flown to New York for specialized treatment. Thirteen students and the dorm administrator's 5-year-old son died inside the building, according to an official news release. Six children died of their injuries in hospitals, not including the girl who died later.
The girl accused of setting the fire remained in custody until her next court appearance on July 5. She was not allowed to enter a plea to the murder charges. If convicted, the girl could face a maximum sentence of life in prison. Guyana President Irfaan Ali declared three days of national mourning. "I ask that as a nation we utilise the next three days as three days of prayers for these children, their families and the community," he said, adding: "There are no words that can describe this magnitude of pain that our brothers and sisters are going through today. …We wish this day had never occurred. … This is a pain we must carry as a nation and as a family. It is a pain we must share together and support in our prayers."