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Nov 30, 2015

Three Female Minors Die in Blaze at Youth Hostel

Three female minors, one-fourteen and two-sixteen years old lost their lives tragically in a fire at the Youth Hostel on Saturday at Mile twenty-one on the George Price Highway. Tonight, there are still more questions than answers in the heartbreaking death of the girls. They had been locked inside a room as a form of disciplinary action for running away on the previous day. It is in that room that the fire started and where their charred remains were found. Authorities say the padlock on the burglar barred door of the room could not be opened as the inferno swept through the wooden building in one of the worst human tragedies. Duane Moody reports.

 

Starla Bradley, Director, Community Rehabilitation Dept.

“This is a terribly traumatic experience for the children and staff who were present at the time of the incident and of course for the families.”

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

The unthinkable happened this weekend at the Government’s Princess Royal Youth Hostel at miles twenty-one on the George Price Highway. A three-room wooden structure that was used to house the female resident minors went up in flames. Trapped inside the burning building were three girls—sixteen year olds Ana Melinda Carlos and Shadisha Arnold and fourteen year old Elizabeth McKoy.

 

Melissa Espat

Melissa Espat, Eyewitness

“When we lowered our windows, we heard screams. They were very eerie screams or really loud screams and we stopped and said wait, people must be in the building. We got out to see…and I tried calling 911. We called and they in turn told us that we had to call a 225-number. We attempted calling that and it was busy off the hook; nobody answered. People were trying to break the windows. I must say that they were attempting the hardest to get the wall broken down. It was when they finally got a piece out and we stopped hearing the screams. When the screams stopped, they also stopped.”

 

Starla Bradley

“Shortly after two p.m., one of the three girls who was confined in the room, called out to the officer and said that one of the girls in the room had lit a pillow and that there was a fire. Now we are not certain how quickly the girls called for help, but from the various accounts that we received, the fire was already in a huge blaze on the top bunk when the officer went to room to check on girls.”

 

The trio along with a fourth female resident was being punished because the day before the blaze, on Friday, they absconded, were later caught and returned to the facility. But internal investigations so far indicate that the girls were presumably planning to escape once again, this time with a fire as the distraction.

 

Starla Bradley

“Four girls absconded from the youth hostel. With the support from the police, they were quickly returned to the institution. Upon their return, they were confined to one of three rooms in the building being used to house the female residents at the youth hostel. This meant that because they had recently runaway, they would be kept in their rooms for a twenty-four hour period and would lose certain privileges, like participating in the usual activities.”

 

Starla Bradley

Now it is not the first time that acts of arson have been committed by residents at the hostel; in April of this year, a fire at the female dormitory was deliberately set.  This time, however, three minors perished in the inferno.  There were attempts to rescue the minors, but to no avail.

 

Starla Bradley

“The officer then proceeded to try to open the padlock which was on the door, but had difficulty opening the lock. The girls inside started to panic and in an effort to try to out the fire, the girl who it is said had started the fire, threw a blanket on top of the flame and this fed the fire. All accounts are that the fire spread very quickly and since the room is small, the smoke soon engulfed the entire room making it difficult to see. The second officer was called from the basketball field, took the keys from the other officer and also attempted to open the door. She stated that she could not because the smoke was too heavy. The fire department was called meanwhile the staff and male residents used buckets of water and the fire extinguishers on hand to try to calm the blaze. Some persons attempted to break through the wooden wall at the back of the building. By the time they had broken through, the fire had already engulfed the building and children could not be saved.”

 

For Audrey Arnold, she arrived on the scene as firefighters extinguished the fire to find that her daughter was in fact killed in the blaze.

 

Audrey Arnold, Mother of Deceased

“My account, I want to know why dehn couldn’t open the door to get the children out of the building.”

 

Reporter

“How did you learn of it?”

 

Audrey Arnold

“Because they call and tell we about the fire. My brother-in-law call me about the fire.”

 

Reporter

“So what do you know at this point?”

 

 

Audrey Arnold

“Well we noh know nothing. All weh dehn say is that the body dehn mussi still deh di burn.”

 

Reporter

“Do you think it might have been your daughter?”

 

Audrey Arnold

“Well from the time dehn tell me the three of them runaway yesterday and if she name mi dehn ina it, I say probably ih have to be dehn three weh dehn lockdown.”

 

By all accounts, the tragedy could have been avoided and it appears that there was a breach of protocol.

 

Starla Bradley

“That is one of the things that we are trying to ascertain….why the room was actually locked because it is actually against institutional policy to lock the children in for these same safety issues. It is against protocol.”

 

Reporter

“There are allegations that that padlock had been given trouble from a long time ago.”

 

Starla Bradley

“That issue was just brought to our attention after the fire and in listening to some of the conversations. So if that was the case, it was not reported and that’s one of the things that we are trying to figure out what happened as well.”

 

Melissa Espat

“As a mother, as a past educator, as an employer, these are things that we have to put in place. What safety do we have for children? And even if it was for the prison or the mental hospital, it is a humanitarian act to have something for these people. So it was just, for me…just standing there and having to see something so awful for us to be able to react.”

The resident minors at the facility were so traumatized by the incident and one female minor attempted to commit suicide. As a result, counselors have been brought in to manage the crisis.

 

Judith Alpuche

Judith Alpuche, C.E.O., Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation & Poverty Alleviation

“We are engaged right now in other phases of crisis management; the initial being all the counseling support, etc that we are putting in for our children, for our staff, for the families—we have reached out to them—to offer that support to help them through this very difficult process and we will continue down that path in ensuring that there is some degree of normalization; whatever that means.”

 

In the interim, the female residents are being housed at the Cadet Corps that is adjacent to the Youth Hostel facility. Duane Moody for News Five.

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1 Response for “Three Female Minors Die in Blaze at Youth Hostel”

  1. Rod says:

    These are the results of an incompetent gov and fire dept unu duncy belizeans vote fu the same incompetent people again unfortunately much much more people will die in this country in the next 5 years on account of this useless incompetent impotent pm and gov.

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