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Guatemala Mourns for 34 Girls Burned to Death in Fire at State-Run Shelter

  • Ken Schwartz

Outside National Palace in Guatemala City, people light candles during a vigil for victims of a fire at the Virgen de Asuncion home in San Jose Pinula, March 9, 2017.

Guatemala is in mourning after the horrific fire Wednesday that killed 34 teenage girls at a shelter for troubled young people near Guatemala City.

Nineteen of the girls died at the scene — their charred bodies covered with blankets outside the building. Fifteen victims later died from their burns at the hospital. Others are fighting for their lives.

Police and witnesses say mattresses were deliberately set on fire in a part of the shelter where the girls were locked down after trying to escape.

The state-run Virgin of the Assumption Safe Home was built to hold 500, but as many as 800 boys and girls were being housed there — frequently complaining of bad food, shabby facilities, fights and sex abuse.

A relative of a youth who resided at the Virgin of the Assumption Safe Home wails as she waits for the release of the names of those who died in a fire at the shelter, outside the morgue where the bodies are being identified in Guatemala City, March 9, 2017.
A relative of a youth who resided at the Virgin of the Assumption Safe Home wails as she waits for the release of the names of those who died in a fire at the shelter, outside the morgue where the bodies are being identified in Guatemala City, March 9, 2017.

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales has called for three days of mourning. He blames the disaster on officials who he says ignored orders to move many of the residents to other facilities.

"The government regrets the fact that those authorities did not heed that request in an opportune way, something which could have prevented the tragedy," Morales said Thursday.

The "safe home" was built to shelter teenagers who were living on the streets because of violence at home or drug addiction.

A former employee of the home called it "a ticking time bomb."

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