Advocate groups across Guatamala are shocked and saddened after a protest by residents in one of the country's many overcrowded #Youth shelters took a deadly turn Wednesday night. #fire broke out out in the building, killing a reported 19 youths at the scene, with another 18 succumbing to injuries in hospital in the hours since first responders arrived at the shelter. A 19th victim died of her injuries early Saturday morning. That number is expected to rise, as several more girls remain in critical condition.
Fire started on mattress in locked room
The girls were staying in a government-run youth shelter in San Jose Pinula. Residents are a mix of runaways, troubled youth sent there by family, and those forced to reside in the shelter by court order.
A co-ed facility, girls and young women staying in the shelter had recently complained of mistreatment.
On Tuesday night -- one night prior to the fire -- a group of female residents attempted to flee the facility amid allegations of abuse, spoiled food, and fear of rape by superiors and other residents. According to victim's relatives, the girls were apprehended and placed in a locked dorm room within the shelter, away from the rest of the population. It was here, relatives said, that one or more girls set fire to mattresses in the room, in protest of their forced return to the facility and to draw attention to the poor treatment they claim to have received.
Investigators look into fire source and government neglect
Since the fire, officials have been trying to determine why the girls would set fire to mattresses in such an enclosed space. There have also been allegations that shelter workers refused to unlock the area where the girls were being held, even after the fire started and began getting out of control..
On Saturday, the head of Guatamala's protective services agency, Carlos Rodas, was ordered by a federal judge to not leave the country while investigations continue into long-standing government failings of youth in care.
Several local youth support agencies and groups planned protests throughout the country Saturday, demanding the resignation of President Jimmy Morales. Morales, in turn, blamed the Guatamalan government's "rigid" system for faults when dealing with troubled youth and said he would look into reforms for the more than 1,500 youth currently living in shelters across the country.
Morales also hoped the government would be able to assist in the treatment of some of the girls, a few of whom will need to be airlifted to the U.S. for lifesaving burn treatment. Medical experts from Galveston, TX arrived in the country on Friday to assess the needs of the most critical patients. Those experts are hoping to fly at least four girls back to Texas this weekend, pending the issuance of humanitarian travel visas. #Death Toll