Fire that killed 58 Kenyan children may have been set by their classmates

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The Independent Online

A fire that swept through sleeping quarters of a school south-east of Nairobi yesterday killing at least 58 teenagers is believed to have been an arson attack, Kenyan police said. The prime suspects are fellow students whose exams were cancelled over claims of cheating.

A fire that swept through sleeping quarters of a school south-east of Nairobi yesterday killing at least 58 teenagers is believed to have been an arson attack, Kenyan police said. The prime suspects are fellow students whose exams were cancelled over claims of cheating.

The blaze at Kyanguli Secondary School, which started in the early hours, consumed the building and trapped the pupils. Some escaped through an open door or a tiny gap between the wall and roof, but many more died as they tried to escape through a second, locked, door.

Andrew Waema, 17, who had been sleeping in an adjacent bungalow, said: "They were screaming and banging on the door. We tried to break it down but the fire was too tough."

The police launched a criminal investigation as Red Cross workers removed the victims' remains. The division chief, Julius Narangwi, said: "We highly suspect arson."

Boarders had reported an attempted arson attack the night before. Kanyange Ngila, 14, who was being treated for burns at Machakos District Hospital, said: "That night there was a smell of petrol. The school cleaned it up and tried to investigate. But we don't know who it was."

In the ward, relatives and friends crowded around the boys. The 14 worst cases - some with 70 per cent burns - had been transferred to Kenyatta National Hospital, Nairobi. But nobody was speaking to one boy, who lay huddled under his blanket. A doctor said: "He is among those suspected of masterminding the issue."

Days earlier, the mathematics papers of 117 students were cancelled over cheating allegations, and the entire exams of at least 30 students declared void. On Friday, the alleged cheaters tried to organise a one-day strike to have the principal, David Kiiler, removed. But the strike failed.

Mr Kiiler was reluctant to comment. "I'm very exhausted, I'm really shattered," he said yesterday, adding that he felt no responsibility for the blaze.

Earlier in the day President Daniel arap Moi visited the school. "This is a ghastly incident," he said. "That door should have been opened. These children could have escaped easily."

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