Two Die in Fire at Panama Youth Detention Facility

PANAMA CITY – A youth who was in grave condition from burns he suffered in a fire at a reformatory outside Panama City has died, the second to have been killed by the flames, local media said Friday.

According to their reports, Benjamin Mojica, 16, died Thursday night in the intensive care unit at Santo Tomas Hospital, where five other teens remain who also suffered burns on their bodies in the reformatory blaze in the town of Tocumen outside this capital.

The first fatality of the fire, which broke out while a riot was going on, was Erick Alexis Batista, 16, who died Tuesday when several of his vital organs failed.

The teenagers, who rioted Jan. 9 in their cells to demand better food and drinking water, were victims of a fire that was started inside the confinement center and whose causes are being investigated by the authorities.

Police announced Thursday the suspension of two units involved in the confused incident that was caught on TV as the teens were burning alive and the reformatory guards, police and firefighters looked on.

A National Police communique said that the two police units will remain suspended until investigations are concluded and it can be rejected or confirmed that they took part in the incident.

Public Safety Minister Jose Raul Mulino said Wednesday that he has signed an order to withdraw all members of the National Police from the country’s penal centers in a period of six months.

The National Police has been the chief supervisor of the nation’s prisons, a situation that has been criticized by civil and human rights organizations, which have excoriated the miserable conditions and overcrowding of these centers, as well as the physical mistreatment of those in custody. EFE

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