Police in the Caribbean Community headquarter nation of Guyana Wednesday said they will ask the state prosecutor’s office for advice as to what type of charges should be brought against the main teenage suspect in a fire late Sunday that raced through a heavily grilled up high school girl’s dormitory in southwestern Guyana killing 19 indigenous students and injuring several others.
A police statement said the file containing evidence gathered at the scene at Madhia township near the Brazilian border will be sent to the prosecutor’s office sometime on Wednesday before any action is taken. Police say the girl is 14, while the fire service which had interviewed her in the past two days said she is 15, meaning that she can be indicted as an adult on multiple charges including murder and arson. If 14, she might be subjected to clauses in the juvenile offender’s act and could end up in a youth detention center until she grows older. Charges can also be upgraded for a juvenile if the offenses are grave enough, officials said.
“Police investigations so far into Sunday night’s deadly fire at Madhia, which claimed the lives of 19 persons, reveal that a female student is suspected of having set the devastating fire because her cellular phone was taken away by the dorm’s mother and a teacher,” a police statement noted, adding that there were 57 students in the high school dorm when fire struck.
The main suspect had survived the blaze which, police said, had started just before midnight on Sunday and warded at the district hospital.
“We have interviewed her and she admitted to nothing,” Deputy Fire Chief Dwayne Scotland told this publication early Wednesday as President Irfaan Ali, western diplomats and senior government officials prepare to head back to the gold and diamond mining town about 200 miles from the city.
Late Tuesday night, the state held a huge candlelight vigil for the dead and injured. Ali said he had assigned an individual minister to each of the affected families, ordering them to provide any assistance they might need from the state.
But the administration is coming under heavy criticism from civil society activists and opposition lawmakers for inviting some of the injured who were discharged from the main city hospital in the past 24 hours to the vigil, many of them weeping openly, heads bent over, faces covered as a moment’s silence was held for the victims.
“I am totally horrified to see the government parading the survivors of the Madhia dorm fire at public events trying to score cheap political points. These girls suffered great trauma. They need to be with their families. Counsellors need to be working with these girls and their families and with their schoolmates,” said parliamentarian Beverley Alert. “Whomever advised the party on this public display of these survivors is a total jackass. Ministers ought to know better,” she said in a social media posting.
Police also said that many of the students who were in the building at the time have already been interviewed in the presence of probation officers and have given statements that will be included in the file to the prosecutor’s office.