Teen girl accused of starting fire in Guyana dorm charged as adult with 19 murders

A 15-year-old girl who is accused of deliberately starting a fire at a school dormitory in Guyana last week was charged as an adult with 19 murders on Monday.

Fire killed 18 girls, 5-year-old boy

People walk around the exterior of a small building that burnt down during a fire.
A nighttime fire raced through a Guyana school dormitory on May 22, killing at least 19 students and injuring several others, authorities said. (Guyana's Department of Public Information/The Associated Press)

A 15-year-old girl who is accused of having deliberately started a fire at a school dormitory in Guyana last week was charged as an adult with 19 murders on Monday.

The girl appeared virtually at the hearing in a court south of the capital, Georgetown, and was ordered held in custody pending further court proceedings.

The fire killed 18 mostly Indigenous girls and one five-year-old boy in the building in the central city of Mahdia. Rescuers pulled at least 20 others from the heavily iron-grilled building.

The government boarding school serves remote Indigenous villages in the country's southwest. 

The girl allegedly started the fire in anger after an administrator confiscated her cellphone, police said. ​​​​​​

She was not allowed to plead to the charges and will make a second court appearance on July 5 when state and defence attorneys will indicate if they are ready to start a preliminary trial. If found guilty, the defendant could face life in prison.

In the early hours of May 22, students awoke to screams and saw fire and smoke in the dormitory's bathroom area, police said in a statement.

Nearly 30 children were hospitalized. Two girls in critical condition were flown to New York on Saturday to seek further medical attention.

Authorities have identified 13 victims via DNA testing, whose remains were returned to their families for burial.

All five doors were locked with keys from inside. National Security Advisor Gerald Gouveia has said that the dorm administrator, or house mother, locked all the doors to prevent the female students aged 12-18 from sneaking out to socialize in the mining town with adult males. She panicked and fumbled with the keys as the blaze raced through the building.

The dormitory's fire alarm system and school fire drills are being investigated, Guyana's Education Minister Priya Manickchand said.

With files from the Associated Press