How 11 blind girls died in school dormitory fire

A blind woman walks with a cane in front of the burnt dormitory at Salama school for the blind in Luga, Uganda, on October 25, 2022. PHOTO/AFP

What you need to know:

  • The cause of the Monday midnight fire that gutted the girl’s dormitory has not been established, according to police.

Asomber mood engulfed Luga-Salama village in Kisoga-Ntenjeru Town Council in Mukono District, when 11 visually impaired pupils from Salama School for the Blind perished in a dormitory fire.

The cause of the Monday midnight fire that gutted the girls’ dormitory has not been established, according to police.

But local leaders, among them, Mr Peter Bakaluba Mukasa, the Mukono District chairperson, pointed at a land wrangle of the 35 acres on which the school sits as a possible cause for the incident.

“I had received some issues on that land in my office with some people claiming ownership of that land with an aim of evicting the school,” Mr Bakaluba said.

But security personnel had earlier cautioned residents against making “conclusions about the cause of the fire”, urging them to wait for police investigations.

The dormitory’s roof caved in and all the learners’ belonging were burnt to ashes.

The dead were identified as Patricia Nakayima, Shamillah Kalamu (P5), Patricia Mudondo (P5), Gladys Namugga (P5), Rebecca Namulondo (P1), Josyline Josephine Namuwonge, Peace Nalumiisa, Agnes Nantume, Pretty Parwoth, Veronica Nassali (P1) and Ketty Nagutu (P1).

The incident, according to the police and school administration, came at a time when the school was preparing to host Princess Anne, the daughter to late Queen Elizabeth II, this Friday.

Princess Anne is the patron of an organisation in Britain, which is planning to start supporting the school and the learners.

“The princess’ security [personnel] and ours had visited the school and we had given a green light for her visit,” Mr Patrick Onyango, the police spokesperson for Kampala Metropolitan area, told journalists at the scene.

“As security [personnel], we had not seen any security threats for the Princess’ visit. Because of this incident, we don’t know the fate of this function,” he added.

Mr Onyango said the deceased were burnt beyond recognition. Their remains were taken to Mulago hospital mortuary for post-mortem.

The incident drew big government shots, to the scene.

Among them was the State minister in-charge of Disability Affairs, Ms Hellen Grace Asamo, Maj. Gen James Birungi, the head of Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, Big Gen Chris Ddamulira the police’s crime intelligence boss, Mr Steven Tanui, the Kampala Metropolitan Police commander, Mr John Chrysestom Muyingo, the State Minister for Higher Education, and officials from Mukono district.

As the charred bodies were being taken to Mulago hospital, different security organisations, including police from the Counter Terrorism Unit, Joint Anti-Terrorism police, Special Forces Command, regular police and army had swung into action to investigate the incident.

The scene of crime had earlier in the morning been cordoned off by security personnel, with hundreds of curious residents barred from the school compound.

“We have got key exhibits that will help us in our investigations.
As news of the incident spread, some of the parents rushed to the school to ascertain the status of their children.

Some of them, on learning that their children had died in the inferno, wailed uncontrollably.
Some of the parents whose children had survived were seen taking them home, although the school had not been officially closed.

Minister Asamo told journalists that she was going to coordinate with the Office of the Prime Minister to see how the families of the deceased and survivors can be supported.

Ms Jane Namatovu, a resident of Gulama in Buikwe District, a grandmother of 11-year-old Peace Nalumiisa, who died in the fire wailed as she paced around the school.

“Nalumiisa was left in my care when she was a baby. Whenever she made a mistake, she apologised to me,” Ms Namatovu said.

Narrating the ordeal, Ms Diana Mukebezi, the school matron, said at around midnight, while she was sleeping, Eva Nakimuli, one of the pupils, called her loudly.
“She shouted ‘aunt’ and went silent. When I woke up, I saw fire burning and I tried to rescue them,” Ms Nakimuli said.

However, the matron said, because the pupils are blind, it was not easy to get them out of the burning dormitory.

“Some of the pupils I had managed to rescue went back to the burning dormitory from where they died,” the weeping matron said.

But Ms Fatumah Ndisaba, the Mukono Resident District Commissioner, had earlier while addressing the press blamed the matron, whom she said had just rushed out of the dormitory when she saw the fire.
The windows had burglar proofs, which is against the Ministry of Education guidelines for boarding school dormitories,” she said.

At one corner of the school compound, survivors and the other pupils, some weeping, gathered and a local pastor engaged them in prayer.

“God has taken your friends and He knows why he spared you. You should remain strong,” the pastor told the survivors.