By Steven Vickerie

There is a well known Guyanese adage that says, “There is more to the mortar than the pestle.” That proverb runs painstakingly deep for the Dorm Mistress of the tragic Mahdia Fire, who also lost her son while trying to save as many lives as she could. In an exclusive interview with Guyana Standard, Carletta Williams provided clarity on many misconceptions that spread since the fire.

Because of the sensitivity of the details regarding what occurred on the night of the fire, Williams requested that she not be made to rehash much of the horrifying details of the night 19 children, including her son, were burned to death within their dorm. She however agreed to provide some degree of clarity of what happened within the months that led to the tragic fire.

Guyana Standard understands that prior to the horrific indicent, teachers and caretakers at the Mahdia Secondary School faced an uphill battle with students who caught on to the crave of “vaping” and other forms of drug abuse. There were also instances of young women who escaped their dormitories to see unknown persons which became a cause for concern for the school’s administration. Williams said that being the only dorm mistress of over 60 teenagers posed several challenges over the years.

Williams recounted that at the start of the new school year, there were several vile incidents involving the students and outside elements of the community, which resulted in the school’s decision to grill the windows of the building to prevent the students from escaping. She noted that despite public backlash about the building being heavily grilled, there was a plausible reason for it.

“Because of the structure of the building there were times at nights when the place used to be hot, so many of them didn’t sleep until after 11 in the nights when the place cooled down. But we had instances where there were several young women who would use the opportunity to escape to go meet unknown people and come back late. This was a concern for the school and they decided to grill the windows so that no one could escape,” Williams said.

She noted that the majority of the students who resided in the dorms were from satellite communities; many of them leaving their respective communities and families to attend school in Campbelltown, Mahdia, Region 8. She noted that while some adhered to the rules of the dormitories, others were persistent to follow their own desires.

Williams noted that while the heavy grilling of the building addressed the issue of the girls escaping, there was always the concern about the hazard it posed if a fire or any natural disaster had occurred. She also confirmed with Guyana Standard that there was no fire prevention mechanism, nor any fire drills that took place during her four years on the job.

“No one came and told us anything about fire prevention. I was concerned about what if something happens, how we would make it out. We don’t really have fires here in this region at least not constantly, so I guess they didn’t think it was important at the time,” Williams said. The incident has hit close to home, as Williams lost not only her son, but also students whom she knew for the past year.

She explained that comments online about her being blamed for the incident is unfair, especially since she helped save several of the females. With regard to claims about all doors being padlock, Williams said, “All the doors did not have a padlock. There was one door, (to the main entrance) that had an issue with the lock so to reinforce that they put a padlock on it. All the other doors had its own manual lock.”

She lamented that the incident has taken a toll on her, especially since she is now grieving the death of her son. She implored the authorities however to ensure that the incident does not occur again. While not commenting directly on the student, who allegedly caused the blaze, she urged officials of the Ministry of Education to look deeper into the state of dormitories across the regions. Williams highlighted that the challenges are not within the confines of the school, but rather outside, with older adults who have their own intentions.

The names of those who perished were confirmed as: Eulanda Carter, Valerie Carter, Mary Dandrade, Martha Dandrade, Lisa Roberts, Nicholeen Robinson, Sherana Daniels, Andrea Roberts, Delicia Edwards, Ariana Edwards, Loreen Evans, Sabrina John, Belnisa Evans, Bibi Jeffrey. Natalie Bellarmine, Adonijah Jerome, Cleoma simon, Tercell Thomas and Shurlin Bellarmine.

Fourteen youths died at the scene, while five died at the Mahdia District Hospital. Some 20 students were rescued. The police have since sent a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions for advice on possible charges for the student who allegedly caused the fire.


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