Guatemala City: When firefighters entered the home for troubled youth, they discovered more than two dozen girls on the floor of a locked room, most of them dead.
A moan rose from one of the bodies, piled on top of each other. When firefighter Danial Perpuac turned the girl over, flames came out of her mouth she was burning up inside. "That is something you cannot forget," Perpuac said helplessly. "I know I will have the smell of grilled meat and hair in my nose and throat for life."
The fire on March 8 that killed 40 girls at the Virgen de la Asunción Safe Home started, when ringleaders took a match to a foam mattress to protest the abuse they had suffered there.
Their hell at the government-run shelter began long before the inferno, as documented in several warnings and at least two orders for closure.
The Virgen de la Asunción home is on a hill 14 miles east of Guatemala City, protected by high walls and barbed wire.
Nobody knew exactly how many lived in a home with a maximum capacity for 500. The majority had committed no crime. They were sent there by the courts for various reasons they had run away, they were abused, they were migrants.
Most came from families so poor they could not afford the USD 50 in lawyers' fees to get their children out. The abuse at Virgen de la Asunción was no secret. Teacher Edgar Rolando Diéguez Ispache has been in prison since 2013 and is on trial for alleged rape.
Another employee, mason José Roberto Arias Pérez, has been in prison since 2014 for raping a mentally disabled girl. Several reports criticising the shelter were put out by the country's attorney general and the National Adoption System in 2015 and 2016. One recommended the gradual closure of the facility, and another its immediate closure.
Yet the abuse continued. The story of one girl who escaped the shelter on October 30, after six weeks inside, was told in a case file seen by The Associated Press. The girl, 16, is not named because she is an alleged victim of rape....