A deadly dormitory fire that killed 19 students in Guyana was set by a fellow student after her cellphone was confiscated when her affair with an older man was revealed, officials said.
Several others were injured when the blaze ripped through a locked dormitory at the Mahdia Secondary School late Sunday.
The female suspect, who is about 14, allegedly threatened to torch the wood-and-concrete building when her phone was taken away over her relationship with an older man, national security adviser Gerald Gouveia said.
The girl, who was injured in the blaze, is expected to be released from hospital this week and will be held in juvenile detention.
Officials said the dorm’s locked doors and grilled windows prevented most of the victims from escaping the fire.
“She did this out of love for them. She felt she was forced to do so because many of them leave the building at night to socialise,” Gouveia said of the dorm mother, who locked the residence at night to prevent the girls from sneaking out.
“This is a very sad situation, but the state is going to work with the students and the families to provide all the support they need.
“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.”
Residents in the surrounding neighbourhood were woken up by the girls’ screams as they clambered to escape the building, the BBC reported.
Most of the victims were Indigenous girls from remote communities near Mahdia, a mining town near the border with Brazil. The 19th fatality was the dorm mother’s own 5-year-old son.
Thirteen of the victims’ remains are burned beyond recognition. Guyana has accepted help from the US and other countries that volunteered to send forensic experts to assist with DNA identification.
“Leaders from all over the world have been offering to help us at this time. They were calling and messaging President Ali (Irfaan) while he was on the ground in Madhia on Monday,“ Gouveia said.
In addition to charging the teen culprit, police are expected to arrest the man she was in a relationship with for statutory rape, Gouveia noted.
The Guyana Police Force will also be seeking advice from the director of public prosecutions as the investigation continues, the local outlet Stabroeck News said.
The Mahdia Secondary School fire is the country’s deadliest since 2016, when 17 inmates perished in a prison in Georgetown.