GUATEMALA CITY – Three former Guatemalan government officials who were responsible for the children’s shelter when a fire took the lives of at least 40 children and teens last week were arrested on Monday, the Public Ministry announced.
Taken into custody were the former head of the Social Welfare Secretariat (SBS) Carlos Antonio Rodas Mejia, Deputy SBS Secretary Anahi Keller and the former director of the Virgen de la Asuncion shelter, Santos Torres, who left their posts after last Wednesday’s tragedy.
According to initial indications, the children who died or were injured – 12 of whom are still hospitalized – were locked into a small hall and started the fire to protest various abuses that they claimed to have suffered.
The former officials, who were handed over to judicial authorities, stand accused of “homicide, failure to fulfill one’s duties and mistreatment of minors,” according to the arrest warrants issued by the court.
Rodas, who had been in his post for three months, resigned on Monday, while Torres was fired on the day of the fire, as announced at the time by Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales.
Meanwhile, Morales on Monday asked for the help of the FBI in investigating the cause of the fire at a children’s shelter last week, the death toll for which – so far – stands at 40.
“We have asked the FBI for help, for them to join the investigations of the police, Public and Government Ministries,” Morales said at a press conference accompanied by his Cabinet at the National Palace of Culture.
The president said that the request for help from the US law enforcement agency was made “to give transparency to the investigation and avoid any suspicions.”
Morales has admitted that the state bears partial responsibility for the fire and said he hoped that the investigations under way will determine responsibilities in the case.
Last Wednesday, a fire broke out at the Virgen de la Asuncion shelter in the town of San Jose Pinula, killing 19 girls – most, if not all, of them succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning.
The Guatemalan government that same day ordered the firing of the center’s director, decreed three days of national mourning and acknowledged that the tragedy could have been avoided, although it blamed the incident on judicial authorities for not authorizing the transfer of the most problematic minors to other centers.
From that point until the weekend, 21 more girls died from serious burns at the Roosevelt and San Juan de Dios hospitals, both located in the capital.
Four more girls in serious condition were transferred on Saturday night to a hospital in Galveston, Texas, specializing in burn treatment, and another three were transported to a Boston hospital.
San Juan de Dios Hospital reported on Monday that of the 17 victims originally brought there after the fire, five have been sent to US hospitals since Saturday.
According to the report, 11 patients have died in the hospital from their burns, and the only victim still receiving treatment there is in critical condition.
Meanwhile, Roosevelt Hospital said that of the 22 victims admitted after the fire, two have been sent to the US for treatment, five have been released and five more remain hospitalized, one of them in critical condition. Ten patients have died there, the medical center said.