A teenage girl has been charged with 19 counts of murder for allegedly starting a deadly fire in a school dormitory in the South American nation of Guyana.
The 15-year-old student was charged as an adult on Monday for the deaths of 18 mostly Indigenous girls and one five-year-old boy at a school in the city of Mahdia.
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The Guyana Chronicle, a daily newspaper in the country, reported that the teen appeared by video before the Diamond Magistrate’s Court in the capital Georgetown on Monday.
She was not required to enter a plea to the charges at the hearing, but the court did affirm the teen would be held in custody at a juvenile holding centre until further proceedings could take place.
The Associated Press reported her second court appearance is scheduled for July 5.
In a statement last week, police said that investigations reveal the student “is suspected of having set the devastating fire because her [mobile] phone was taken away by the dorm’s mother and a teacher”.
The charges come as the country continues to grieve the tragic incident, which took place late at night on May 21 at a boarding school that largely serves students from remote Indigenous communities.
The blaze injured more than two dozen students, one of whom was flown to a New York hospital for special treatment in the United States over the weekend. The suspect was also injured during the fire.
Of the 19 dead, 13 could not be “visually identified” after the fire, according to a government statement. On Friday, the government announced that DNA testing had been used to confirm their identities and that authorities would allow the remains to be returned to the victims’ families.
Questions around conditions in the school have become a topic of contention, and Guyana’s Education Minister Priya Manickchand has said that the school’s alarm system and fire preparedness efforts are being investigated.
All five doors in the facility were locked with keys from the inside, which National Security Advisor Gerry Gouveia said the dorm administrator did to prevent students from sneaking out at night.
The dorm administrator’s five-year-old son was among those who died in the fire.
In a Facebook post on Monday, Manickchand said that family members of the victims had been harmed by speculation about the incident circulating on social media. She urged people to refrain from sharing claims without having all of the facts.
“Hold off on mouthing off on your opinions,” Manickchand said. “You do not know better than these parents what is good for their children and families.”