GUATEMALA CITY – Death toll in a children’s shelter fire in the Guatemalan capital rose to 35, while 19 continue to be hospitalized.
The minor girls were killed in a fire that broke out at the Virgen de Asuncion shelter in Guatemala City, a state-run center for juveniles.
Thirteen of the victims died in the last few hours and those hospitalized – aged between 12-17 years – have four-degree burns and are in critical conditions.
According to preliminary investigations, some young girls in the overcrowded center had set mattresses on fire as a protest against alleged sexual and physical abuse.
Daniel, a young boy from the center, told reporters the girls were locked in a classroom at the time of the incident and that authorities were very slow to react.
The juvenile center located in the Havana municipality of San Jose Pinula has been embroiled in controversy since last year, when at least 47 children had run away from the center.
The center has a total capacity of 400 but was housing 748 children of both genders, including orphans, victims of violence, criminal gang members and other offenders, according to family members.
Immediately after the incident, the Guatemalan government had dismissed the director of the center, and declared three days of national mourning.
It had also said the tragedy could have been averted and blamed the judiciary for not authorizing the transfer of the problem children to other centers.