Guatemala youth home fire kills 21

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Twenty-one were killed after a fire tore through a youth home on Wednesday in San Jose Pinula, Guatemala, according to Jorge Mario Cruz, a spokesman for the country’s volunteer firefighter brigade. Video from the scene showed sobbing family members outside the home, banging on the doors looking for loved ones.

Nineteen female residents of Virgen de la Asunción Safe Home were killed in the blaze, all of them between the ages of 13 and 17, the country’s National Civil Police told CNN en Espanol. A cook at the home was also killed. It wasn’t immediately clear if the 21st victim was a resident of the youth home.

The fire, which began around 9 a.m., injured 37 other minors, according to the Public Ministry; the National Civil Police said 11 victims were seriously injured.

The blaze started when some of the youths in the home set fire to a mattress on their way to breakfast, said Abner David Paredes Cruz, the attorney for Guatemala’s Human Rights office.

The facility houses minors who have suffered physical, psychological and sexual violence, or who have mild disabilities. Some residents have been abandoned, addicted to drugs, or been victims of trafficking, the Guatemalan government said

Human rights groups criticized the home in the past, saying it was overcrowded and was lacking in specialized care for residents.

“It’s a terrible event, what happened, and more terrible that this could be avoided,” Anabella Morfín, Guatemala’s general prosecutor, said.

Guatemala’s volunteer fire brigade posted a photo on social media that showed charred bodies partially covered with blankets spread across the floor.

Some parents gathered at a morgue in Guatemala City.

“I don’t know how this came to pass but this is just unimaginable … that my daughter would be incinerated. But I have faith in God that there will be justice,” Dacia Marcela Ramirez Soza told CNN.

Sobbing, she said she was told at the youth home that her daughter died in the fire. She identified her body at the morgue.

“It’s just not possible, this tragedy, and the violation of human rights … it’s sad,” Ramirez Soza said.

Other parents feared their children were among the dead.

“I am hurting as a mother because she does not deserve this. I gave her advice. I hope that it is not her,” Carolina Juarez, whose daughter was in the home, told AFP.

Guatemala’s president has declared three days of mourning, according to a spokesman. The Attorney General’s Office has also asked the Public Ministry to investigate the cause of the fire at the home.

Morfín said her office “has the duty to protect and represent children and adolescent and those vulnerable and that lack representation.”

Morfín also said her office would open an investigation into the cause of the fire.

She said they had been trying to reduce the number of teenagers and children at the home from 720 around September and October of last year to around 580.

“We cannot recover those lives but we can analyze the system, make it transparent,” Secretary of Welfare Carlos Rodas said.

“That it is not about egos, it is not about personalities,” he added. “These are boys and girls, teenagers.”

Rodas said his office will pay for the funeral services.

CNNe’s Ana Melgar and Michelle Mendoza contributed to this report. CNN’s Sarah Faidell, Flora Charner and Deborah Bloom also contributed to this report.

By Marilia Brocchetto and Darran Simon

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