Guatemala mourns victims of fire as death toll climbs to 37

By on March 11, 2017


Guatemalans on Friday held an early-morning candle-lit vigil outside the president's residence in the capital, in memory and in protest of the scores of minors and teenagers killed earlier this week in a fire at a youth shelter.  (Photo: JustyCinMD/Flickr)
Guatemalans on Friday held an early-morning candle-lit vigil outside the president’s residence in the capital, in memory and in protest of the scores of minors and teenagers killed earlier this week in a fire at a youth shelter. (Photo: JustyCinMD/Flickr)

GUATEMALA CITY—Guatemalans on Friday held an early-morning candle-lit vigil outside the president’s residence in the capital, in memory and in protest of the scores of minors and teenagers killed earlier this week in a fire at a youth shelter.

The death toll from the blaze — which occurred late Tuesday or early Wednesday at the Virgen de la Asuncion Shelter in San Jose Pinula, in the central department of Guatemala — climbed to 37 as several of the most critically wounded succumbed to their injuries.

Police are investigating the cause of the fire, which was initially traced to rioting teenagers setting fire to their dormitory mattresses, to protest poor treatment and squalid conditions.

One donor said the facility “was more like a prison than a shelter”, according to the daily Prensa Libre.

The same donor, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said the sponge mattresses had holes in them because the girls used them to make sanitary napkins.

On Thursday, President Jimmy Morales addressed growing anger at the shocking tragedy at a press conference, announcing three days of mourning and pledging to close the shelter.

In the immediate aftermath of the blaze, the director of the facility was fired and 70 of the children were reunited with their families, said Morales.

But critics want more to be done. They point out that Anahi Keller, the head of the Social Welfare Ministry, which oversees the shelter and others like it, was a producer for the national TV network, and has no prior experience.

Morales, a former TV personality, defended Keller´s appointment at the conference.

The shelter housed some 600 minors and adolescents, mainly young girls from abusive homes.