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Girls & Women

Guatemala Charges Officials Over Orphanage Fire That Killed 41 Girls

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. AP Photo/Moises Castillo

Guatemala has indicted two police officers and three government officials for the deadly fire that engulfed an orphanage in March and killed 41 young girls. 

The officials are charged with manslaughter, abuse, and negligence for their roles in the fire, which was started when one of the girls set fire to her mattress in protest of living conditions at the Virgin of the Assumption dorm.

The girls, who in many cases sought shelter from domestic violence or trafficking, said the home was overcrowded and they had been sexually abused by staff, according to the BBC

The incident began when residents began rioting and tried to escape through the home's gates on a Tuesday night; most were caught, brought back, and locked in their rooms. Overnight, some girls set fire to their mattresses, and the ensuing blaze engulfed two dorms.

Read More: 28 Girls Killed in Orphanage Fire in Guatemala After Protests Over Abuse, Overcrowding

The government-run shelter was only supposed to house 400 residents, but many more were living there at the time of the fire, according to the report. 

Two senior officials of social services, Brenda Chaman Pacay and Harold Augusto Flores, are accused of manslaughter, and a third, Gloria Patricia Castro Gutiérrez, is charged with negligence, according to the report

The police officers, Luis Armando Pérez and Lucinda Marroquín, face abuse charges.

The latest charges are in addition to criminal charges filed against the director of the orphanage and two other social services officials in April.

Take Action: Tell World Leaders to Amend Laws to Prevent Sexual Violence

News of the tragedy sparked outrage throughout Guatemala over the living conditions of orphans and children in need. 

The government-run children’s shelter was meant to be a safe haven for vulnerable and abused teens in semi-rural San José Pinula, 15 miles outside of Guatemala City. But complaints about abuse and overcrowding were rampant.

Advocates now hope that the outrage will lead to better oversight and, ultimately, much better living conditions.