Video shows guards walking away during fire that killed 38 migrants in Mexico


CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (AP) — After migrants in northern Mexico placed mattresses against the bars of their detention cell and set them on fire, guards quickly walked away and made no apparent attempt to release the men before smoke filled the room and killed 38 men, surveillance video showed Tuesday.

Hours after the fire broke out late Monday, rows of bodies were laid out under shimmery silver sheets outside the immigration detention facility in Ciudad Juarez, which is across the U.S. border from El Paso, Texas, and a major crossing point for migrants.

Authorities originally reported 40 dead, but later said some may have been counted twice in the confusion. Twenty-eight people were injured and were in “delicate-serious” condition, according to the National Immigration Institute.

At the time of the blaze, 68 men from Central and South America were being held at the facility, the agency said. The institute said almost all were from Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela and El Salvador.

In the video, two people dressed as guards rush into the camera frame, and at least one migrant appears by the metal gate on the other side. But the guards did not appear to make any effort to open the cell doors and instead ran away as billowing clouds of smoke filled the structure within seconds.

Adán Augusto López, Mexico’s interior secretary, confirmed the authenticity of the video in an interview with local journalist Joaquín López Doriga.

Immigration authorities identified the dead and injured as being from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador, according to a statement from the Mexican attorney general’s office.

Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the fire was started by migrants in protest after learning they would be deported.

“They never imagined that this would cause this terrible misfortune,” López Obrador said.

The deaths forced the government to rent refrigerated trailers to hold the migrants’ bodies, Chihuahua state prosecutor Cesar Jáuregui told reporters.

The detention facility is across the street from Juarez’s city hall.

At a nearby hospital, Viangly Infante Padrón, a 31-year-old Venezuelan migrant seeking asylum in the U.S. with her husband and three children, waited for her husband, who was being treated for smoke inhalation. The previous evening, she was waiting outside the detention center for his release when the fire broke out.

“There was smoke everywhere. The ones they let out were the women, and those (employees) with immigration," she said. “The men, they never took them out until the firefighters arrived.”

She saw several dead bodies before finding her husband in an ambulance. “I was desperate because I saw a dead body, a body, a body, and I didn’t see him anywhere.”

Earlier, about 100 migrants gathered Tuesday outside the immigration facility’s doors to demand information about relatives.

Katiuska Márquez, a 23-year-old Venezuelan woman with her two children, ages 2 and 4, was seeking her half-brother, Orlando Maldonado, who had been traveling with her.

“We want to know if he is alive or if he’s dead,” she said. She wondered how all the guards who were inside made it out alive and only the migrants died. “How could they not get them out?”

Authorities did not immediately answer that question.

Márquez and Maldonado were detained Monday with the children and about 20 others. They had been in Juarez waiting for an appointment from U.S. authorities to request asylum. They were staying in a rented room where 10 people were living, paying for it with the money they begged in the street.

“I was at a stoplight with a piece of cardboard asking for what I needed for my children, and people were helping me with food,” she said. Suddenly agents came and detained everyone.

Everyone was taken to the immigration facility but only the men were placed in the cells. Three hours later, the women and children were released.