Mexico Arrests 7 in Day Care Fire that Killed 47

Seven state officials were arrested Monday and six others were being sought on negligent homicide charges in a day care fire that killed 47 children in Mexico. But none were involved in the day care center itself.

All 13 work for the northern Sonora state Finance Department, which operated an adjacent warehouse for cars, tires and paperwork. Investigators say the fire may have been caused by a short circuit or overheating in the air conditioning system of the warehouse, which lacked fire alarms and extinguishers.

"They are employees and officials with the Finance Department who have a direct responsibility for the warehouse where the fire started," state Attorney General Abel Murrieta said.

In Mexico, federal prosecutors have jurisdiction over the federally funded day care, and despite a chorus of demands for justice from grieving parents, they have yet to charge any of the people who ran the center.

The warehouse blaze in Hermosillo, Sonora's state capital, spread to the roof of the day care, sending fire raining down on the children and teachers. Thirty children died that day; others succumbed later, including the 47th victim, a 3-year-old girl with burns on 65 percent of the her body who died Sunday.

The day care center had passed a safety inspection just two weeks before the June 5 fire, and its owners have said there were three clearly marked emergency exits.

But firefighters, parents and civilian rescuers said they fought to evacuate the children through the only door that was not blocked. A desperate neighbor used a pickup truck to punch large holes through the cinderblock walls.

Although the day care center had fire alarms, they failed to go off because the smoke seeped between the roof and the ceiling panels, above where the alarms were attached.

The tragedy has shocked Mexico and provoked finger-pointing between federal and state authorities.

Jose Martin Godoy, who represents the federal Attorney General's Office in Sonora, said some federal officials could be charged, but declined to give details and wouldn't comment on whether the day care center owners would face charges.

The privately run center cared for children under a contract from the federal Social Security Institute, and is co-owned by the wives of two state officials who have since resigned from their posts but are not among those arrested Monday.

One of the wives also is a distant relative of Mexico's first lady, Margarita Zavala, who has said nobody should be above the law.

The Social Security Institute will file a civil lawsuit against the day care owners and the state Finance Department for negligence, institute director Daniel Karam said, without providing more details.

Sonora Gov. Eduardo Bours, who belongs to the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, angrily labeled the threatened lawsuit a "smoke screen" designed to deflect blame from the federal government, which he said is ultimately responsible for the day care center.

The Social Security Institute provides low-cost care for at least 200,000 children at more than 1,500 centers across Mexico. The federal government has said it is reviewing safety conditions at the centers, many of which are outsourced to private operators.

The agency's top official in Sonora has resigned and at least three other agency officials have been suspended pending the investigation.


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