SAN JOSE PINULA, Guatemala – The first rays of the sun start to light up the walls of the state-run shelter where, one year ago Thursday, 41 girls were killed in an fire that profoundly shook all of Guatemala.
The silence and the cold in this cement building in the Guatemala City suburb of San Jose Pinula soon give way to the warmth of prayers, commemorative acts, reflections, music and crying, bringing together the families of the 41 girls, the firefighters who responded that day, musicians and journalists.
The somber memorial occurred at the same time that the International Women’s Day march was taking place downtown.
A Maya ceremony, bringing up some of the memories of the fire, comforted the family members and the only survivor, who found the strength to demand justice for her friends.
Vianney Claret Hernandez, along with her husband Mario Rodriguez, who lost their daughter Ashley on that tragic day, spoke about their search for justice.
“I know that my daughter is supporting me right now,” Vianney said while holding a painted portrait of her daughter.
Many of the girls who died in the fire had been placed in the shelter by their families in the hope that they would escape poverty.
The girls had been locked in a room after staging a protest over their alleged mistreatment, including overcrowding and abuse by the staff.
Once the fire started, it took nine minutes for the police officer who had the room’s key to open the door, which was enough to create one of the most shocking infernos ever seen by the first firefighter to enter.