A student started a fire in a school dormitory in Guyana that killed 19 children after school authorities confiscated her cell phone, police said on Tuesday.
The children, mostly Aboriginal girls, died around midnight Monday, mostly at the scene.
“A female student is suspected of starting the devastating fire because the dorm mother and the teacher listed her cell phone,” police said in a statement.
David Adams, the mayor of Mahdia, the city where the school is located, earlier confirmed the student’s alleged involvement to Reuters, and said she was not injured in the fire.
He added that he could not confirm whether the student was in government custody. The police statement did not mention the arrest.
Police said some students told investigators they were awakened by screaming and saw fire and smoke in the dorm bathroom.
Police added that a government pathologist who conducted an autopsy on six bodies late on Monday gave the cause of death as smoke inhalation and burns.
Thirteen sets of remains were transported to the capital, Georgetown, for DNA identification. Nearly 30 other children were taken to the hospital.
Education Minister Priya Manikchand earlier declined to discuss the student’s alleged involvement.
Asked about allegations that the residence is not equipped with a modern fire alarm system and that students have not been trained in fire drills, Manikchand told Reuters, “It is all under investigation and a report will be issued once finalized. What should come of it is an improvement across the sector.”
She added that burn specialists, psychiatrists and other medical staff were taking care of injured children and their families.
The youngest of those killed was the five-year-old son of the house keeper. All other victims were girls, and included several brothers and at least one set of twins.
President Irfan Ali met with some of the families of the dead on Monday after visiting the Mahdia Hospital and declared three days of national mourning.
(Reporting by Kiana Wahlberg in Georgetown, Writing by Julia Simes Cobb and David Gregorio
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