19 Ugandan girls killed in dormitory fire

April 15, 2008 11:51:28 AM PDT
A fire tore through a primary school dormitory overnight, killing 19 girls and two adults. Police said Tuesday that the blaze may have been deliberately set. Sobbing parents sifted through the ashes of the dormitory at the Buddo school, trying in vain to identify their daughters from charred piles of bones.

"Help me, oh God please help me!" Jacqueline Bakoba wailed as she lifted up part of the collapsed roof looking for her missing daughter, Betty.

Police Inspector General Kale Kaihura told reporters at the scene that interviews with teachers and survivors led him to believe the fire was started deliberately.

"Preliminary investigations are indicating that it was homicide," he said, but declined to give any more details.

Lydia Namusisi, 14, who sleeps in a nearby dormitory, said she was woken up by a loud bang. When the girls tumbled out of bed, they found the dormitory next door blazing.

School worker James Kiiza said the doors had been locked from the outside.

By the time firefighters reached the school, most of the dormitory had already burned down and part of the roof and inner walls had collapsed. The fire burned away almost all the mattresses and children's clothing and the intense heat warped the metal bed frames.

Teacher Frederick Bugmbe said there were 58 girls in the dormitory, some of whom managed to wriggle through narrow windows. Hundreds of parents arrived at the school, which has around 1,000 students, to search for their children. The school is seven miles from the capital, Kampala.

Police said they were still searching the site for remains.

Sylvia Nakatte said she received a phone call to tell her that her 12-year-old daughter, Mary, had died.

"I rushed to the school but her body cannot be identified," she said, weeping and clawing at the sodden ashes.