Guatemala arrests officials in deadly youth shelter fire

People carry the coffin of 14-year-old Ana Roselia Perez Junay, who died in a fire at a children's shelter, at the cemetery in Zaragoza, Guatemala, Sunday, March 12, 2017. The death toll in the March 8 fire rose to 40 on Sunday with the announcement that another girl has died of burns. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemalan authorities arrested three child welfare officials Monday who were responsible for overseeing a youth shelter where 40 girls died from a fire.

Prosecutor’s spokeswoman Julia Barrera confirmed the detentions of Social Welfare Secretary Carlos Rodas, Deputy Secretary Anahi Keller and shelter director Santos Torres on suspicion of homicide, mistreatment of minors and failure to fulfill duty.

Earlier in the day President Jimmy Morales said he had fired the chain of command at the country’s child welfare agency, but did not specify how many employees were dismissed.

He also said his government has asked the FBI to help in the investigation of Wednesday’s disaster.

Guatemala’s human rights prosecutor said the dismissals should have come the same day as the fire. Jorge de Leon said his agency had asked a judge to review conditions at the shelter before the fire, but the request was denied.

Authorities have said the fire that swept through parts of the institution began when mattresses were set ablaze during a protest by residents protesting conditions at the overcrowded youth shelter. Some of the victims had escaped earlier, fleeing poor food and mistreatment, but were caught and confined at the facility.

De Leon said last week that younger children fled the shelter because they were being abused by older residents.

“According to what they say, the bigger kids have control and they attack them constantly,” de Leon said. “They also complain that food is scarce and of poor quality.”

In 2013, a 14-year-old girl was strangled by another resident at the shelter, investigators said.

Prosecutors say they are also investigating whether children were trafficked through the home for prostitution.

Four of the burn victims were flown to the Shriners Hospital for Children in Galveston, Texas, on Saturday. Morales’ office said the Shriners Hospitals had arranged for their transfer.

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