A Guyanese teenager transported to a Staten Island hospital has been treated for burn injuries sustained during a dormitory fire in her South American homeland that took the lives of 20 students.
The 13-year-old girl, whose name has not been made public, was flown out of Guyana by an air ambulance on Saturday, May 27, and brought to the Northwell Burn Center at the University Hospital in Staten Island, New York, according to Demerarawaves.com. She was one of the multiple victims harmed by arson at the Region Eight dormitory of Mahdia Secondary School on May 21 around 10:50 p.m.
In total, 19 girls and one 5-year-old boy lost their lives in the fire — a fiery grave set ablaze by a fellow schoolmate after her cellphone was confiscated by officials.
Parkinson John, a man who lives next to the dormitory, was the first person to respond to the fire, risking his life during two trips to save at least eight girls.
“I went over in my underwear alone and tried to save them. On the left side of the building, there was only smoke, so I rush in and try to get them to exit. The smoke had them bad, but I wrap a cloth around my face and run and grab who I can,” John said to reporters.
John said he would have tried to rescue more girls, but the smoke overwhelmed him, and he had to abort his effort.
Acting Fire Chief Dwayne Scotland said firefighters from the Mahdia Fire Station were called to the school that night, around 11:15 p.m. However, within the four minutes it took to get to the school, the entire edifice was engulfed in flames.
“Immediately, firefighting and rescue operations were initiated. These operations would have rescued not less than 20 students. The operation continued for approximately three and a half hours after which the fire was brought under control and subsequently extinguished,” he reportedly told the Department of Information.
Authorities have detained a 15-year-old girl, also a student at the secondary school, in connection to the fatal fire. During an arraignment on Monday, May 29, she was indicted on 19 counts of murder. Daniels’ and any other deaths that could come after will grow that number.
“We have interviewed her, and she admitted to nothing,” Scotland said.
An investigation has been launched to unpack the teenager’s motive. Preliminary reports from authorities show the student was upset because the dorm mother and teacher confiscated her cellphone. It is alleged the phone was taken from the girl because she was communicating inappropriately with an adult man.
“These are grieving times for me because that is my daughter and I love her bad, and then again, I don’t know what could take place because I have so many things to say,” said Roy Felix Williams, whose 13-year-old daughter Bibi Rita Jeffrey died in the fire. “I came with a mind to tell the President and everybody else responsible for this to arrest somebody for what has gone down, and I say these lives cannot be gone for nothing because they said that this fire was maliciously set and was willfully set.”
Sherena Daniels, 14, was air-dashed to Georgetown immediately after being saved from the fire, Stabroek News reports. However, Sherena was pronounced dead by officials in the Georgetown Intensive Care Unit shortly before 10 a.m. on Tuesday, May 30. She reportedly succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning and heart failure linked to respiratory failure.
“We thank the doctors, nurses, and other staff members who worked assiduously with the hope that a miracle would be possible,” health authorities said.
Autopsies swiftly conducted at the Mahdia District Hospital mortuary on the first set of victims’ bodies show six of them all died as a result of smoke inhalation and burns. However, the cause of death is still pending for the 13 others.
Because the nature of the case is so unusual and disturbing, the Guyana Police Force has sought legal advice from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions on how to communicate the tragedy to the public.
Guyana’s Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony said the 13-year-old who was flown to the New York hospital “remains stable and improving. The young girl had the first of multiple surgeries on Monday (May 29) afternoon. She is doing well, and we expect a positive outcome.”
A statement from the government stressed the necessity of her transfer to the burn center, saying the decision was made “out of an abundance of precaution and made in the best interest of the patient.”
School fires have been more and more frequent in Guyana, specifically over the last two years. Experts say the schools are easy targets for arsonists because of the timber construction of the buildings. The buildings are also old and in need of modernizing.