A girl places a candle during a vigil in Mahdia in honor of the children killed during a deadly dormitory fire. (Photo courtesy of Guyana Government Department of Public Information)
A 15-year-old girl is being charged as an adult for the murder of 19 other children in Guyana after allegedly starting a fire in their dormitory as retaliation for having her cell phone confiscated by school officials.The teen was identified as the principal suspect in the deadly blaze on May 21 at the Mahdia Secondary School that shocked the South American nation. The girl, who has not been publicly identified, allegedly deliberately started the fire in the dormitory bathroom around midnight after her cell phone was taken away by the “dorm mother” and a teacher, according to the Guyana Chronicle newspaper.
When the blaze began, there were reportedly 57 female students in the one-floor concrete building with iron bars over the windows where the girls lived. The fire quickly engulfed the entire structure.Guyana National Security advisor Gerald Gouveia said that all the doors to the dormitory were locked at the time to prevent the teenage girls, aged between 12-18, from sneaking out at night, according to The Associated Press. The government boarding school primarily houses children from remote Indigenous villages in the country and is located in the mining town of Mahdia.14 children were found dead at the scene, while another five died later in the hospital. One of the dead was a five-year-old boy who was reportedly the son of the dorm mother. Another 29 girls were injured during the attack, including a 13-year-old who was airlifted to New York in critical condition for specialized treatment.On May 26, Guyana Independence Day, President Mohamed Irfaan Ali addressed children around the nation and asked them to “shoulder each other’s pains.”“Never forget the fragility of life. Open yourself to good counsel. Be respectful. Pay tribute to your teachers. Reach for the most distraught among you and give them your hands of friendship,” said Ali. “Share from your abundance among those who least have; and always remember, this is your home in which you are gifted life.”The president also met with the families of the victims of the fire, as well as the survivors, and announced plans to launch support programs and mental health initiatives to help those affected. At the meeting, the children spoke about wanting to return to school, but some hoped to do so in their own communities and closer to their families, the government said.The girl accused of starting the fire was officially charged on 19 counts of murder on Monday during a virtual hearing and will be held in custody pending further proceedings. If she is found guilty of the charges as an adult, the defendant could face a life sentence in prison.