Guatemala declared three days of mourning after a blaze Wednesday in a government-run children’s shelter killed at least 22 teenage girls and focused attention on allegations of sexual and other abuse in the facility. All those killed were aged between 14 and 17.
Most died of burns in the fire in the Virgin of the Assumption Safe Home in San Jose Pinula, 10 kilometers (six miles) east of Guatemala City, officials said. A total of 38 other people were injured, 16 of them in critical condition, hospital officials said. President Jimmy Morales said on national television that he had ordered the dismissal of the shelter’s director.
The blaze was believed to have started during an overnight rebellion in the center, which holds nearly double the 400 people it was designed to house. Some youths tried to escape. Morales said that before the fire, orders had been given to transfer some of the youths to other facilities because of the overcrowding.
“They were serving food to the teenagers when some of them started a fire in a mattress and that’s how the fire was set,” said Abner Paredes, a prosecutor defending children’s rights. Human rights activists held a vigil Wednesday night, lighting candles and placing flowers outside the shelter and in the main square in Guatemala City.
BEN TV Lagos