Fire in Guatemalan Children’s Home Kills 22 Teenage Girls; Dozen Injured

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An intentionally set fire in a Children's Home, meant to provide a place of safety from the threats of family or street violence, became a death trap for 22 teenage girls as the fire became a raging inferno.

Built to keep Guatemalan youth off the streets and out of the hands of human traffickers and away from abusive environments the Virgen de la Asuncion Safe Home, in San Jose Pinula, was billed safe house. The facts couldn't be further from the truth.

Children sent to the Safe House were often subject to the very abuse and violence it was billed to alleviate.  Official governmental reports as far as 2013 recommended the facility close. The children were routinely sexually assaulted, beaten, feed poor quality or nearly spoiled food.

As the number of orphaned or abandoned children, boys and girls, grew Judges and other state officials responsible for the well-being or protection of children would often send children to the Asuncion Safe Home. Reunification with families were rarely, if ever, pursued.

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Conditions deteriorated so badly that the children planned a mass escape storming the locked gate, many of the residents managed to escape. Some made it to freedom others were captured by local police and returned to the safe house.

The girls were locked inside their dormitory for punishment. Reports from inside indicated the one returned girl was so distraught that she said she "would sacrifice herself so that everyone would know what they were living inside." And set her mattress on fire.

The blaze spread quickly and with dormitory doors locked, smoke and flames trapped the girls. By the time the guards opened the doors, the blaze was out of control and for the 40 girls in this wing, there was no hope or chance of survival.

When the fire was finally extinguished, 19 girls, ranging in age from 13 to 17, died at the scene, three others died at area hospitals. Eighteen remain hospitalized. Identification, of the dead, was deterred by lack of dental records and medical records.

Townspeople in San Jose Pinula, the adopted parents of the facility, mourned the losses begging government for action and answers.

The chicken coop, as the home was often called, had numerous violations over the years. Overcrowding, inadequate facilities for the growing populations, the state welfare run agency was ordered to initiate procedures to close the facility and reunify families.

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The process was slowly enforced, conditions inside continue to worsen as the targeted children, the most vulnerable, were easy pickings for every predator with every predilection known to man. Corruption and depravity were rampant.

Horror stories have filtered out of peer violence. Children with mental conditions were placed in the general population; guards with no qualifications locking the children in groups in solitary confinement size cells; malnutrition; unspeakable violence and conditions.

Unable to fight the system, freedom depended on creating a bigger voice and for these imprisoned youth, freedom came on International Women's Day when the house of horrors became known around the world.

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales called the fire a "national tragedy" and led the nation in three days of national mourning cancelling all activities.

Sources: Various

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