Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of injuries and strong language. Its leader, who was in a relationship with Ashly, threatened to kill the entire family if she did not let Ashly go live with him.
Ashly had met the boy at school in a poor neighbourhood of Guatemala City where they lived. Vianney was determined to wrest Ashly from the hands of the gang.
She told the police, and after they found Ashly, Vianney sent her to a state-run home for at-risk children so she would be far away from the boy and his gang. Before Ashly's first stint in the home, Vianney had been told that her daughter would get food, clothes, an education and psychological care.
Instead, "supervisors would send older girls to beat Ashly up and when she resisted, they would punish her," Vianney recalls. The home was overcrowded and dirty, and the food was often spoiled. Otherwise, "one day I would find her dismembered body on my doorstep", Vianney says of her fears at the time.
Like Vianney, many families sent their children to the home with the best of intentions, unaware of the criticism it had come under from organisations in Guatemala and abroad, including the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Some parents suspected that something was amiss at the home but did not know the full extent of the abuse.
Sixteen-year-old Mirsa was one of the girls too frightened to speak out. Mirsa had been sent to the home by a judge after she escaped from the gang which had tried to forcibly recruited her.
The judge reckoned she would be safer there than in the gang-controlled neighbourhoods of Guatemala City. Too afraid to tell their parents of the conditions in the home, Mirsa, Ashly and others hatched a plan. On 7 Marchthey were among about a hundred children who escaped from the home. An investigation later revealed that the girls were not even allowed to leave the room to go to the toilet.
If they wanted to relieve themselves, they had to do so in a corner. In the morning, they were given breakfast in the same filthy room. Desperate to get out, one of the girls lit a match.
The flames quickly spread. The girls banged on the door in panic, but for nine minutes it remained locked.
Forty-one girls died, 15 others suffered life-changing injuries. Roxana Tojil rushed to the hospital.
One was without lips and nose. Another one screamed: 'Throw water on me!
Eventually Roxana found Mirsa. She was in the morgue, dead. Ashly was also in the morgue but Vianney refused to view her daughter's burned body. At the funeral, Vianney hugged the coffin.
Twelve public officials are on trial, facing charges ranging from manslaughter to abuse of authority, but the victims' families say that the legal proceedings have been slow and frustrating. Hearings were repeatedly suspended even before the Covid pandemic struck.
The judge in the case told the BBC that the reasons for the delays varied, including appeals being lodged by both parties, the temporary absence of a defence lawyer and a general work overload which meant that sometimes hearings for different cases were scheduled for the same time, resulting in the judge having to cancel one.
Vianney says she is livid that only three of the defendants are in pretrial detention with the remaining nine able to enjoy the comforts of their own homes after having been placed under house arrest. Meanwhile, she is struggling to find a job flexible enough to allow her to attend court.
The hearings have been painful for the mothers as the defence has tried to shift the blame for the deaths onto the girls, arguing that the students started the fire. The mothers themselves have also been criticised, with some in Guatemala questioning why they would have sent their daughters to such a home in the first place.
Vianney wants to know what exactly went on at the home - not just in the run-up to the fire but in the years preceding it, after allegations of human trafficking surfaced. She is also fighting for the evidence of the fire to be preserved. On 14 June she petitioned a judge to stop the classroom where the fire happened from re-opening, which would have compromised any evidence inside the room.
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