A 15-year-old girl has been charged – as an adult – with murdering 19 people after she allegedly set fire to a secondary school dormitory in Guyana.

The suspect, a pupil at the school who was also injured in the incident, “deliberately” started the blaze on 21 May after becoming upset about her phone being confiscated, according to investigators.

The fire claimed the lives of 18 indigenous girls aged 12 to 18, who were from remote villages served by the boarding school in the southwestern border town of Mahdia.

A five-year-old boy, the son of the housemother – the woman in charge of the dormitory, also died.

Most of the victims died after becoming trapped in the burning building, despite fire crews managing to rescue others by smashing through one of the walls.

Many of those injured have been discharged from hospital, but one girl sustained such severe injuries that she had to be flown to a hospital in New York for specialist treatment.

National security adviser Gerald Gouveia described how the fire spread through the building, which had been locked by the housemother to prevent the girls from sneaking out and socialising with men from the village.

Mr Gouveia said: “The housemother was asleep at the time inside the building but panicked and could not find the right keys to unlock the building from inside but she made it out.

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“She also lost her five-year-old child in the fire.”

The suspect appeared virtually at a hearing and was ordered to be held in custody pending further court proceedings.

She was not allowed to enter a plea to the charges and is to appear for a second time in court where a preliminary trial will be decided upon.

If found guilty, she could face life in prison.

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