Justice for the 49 Angels: Filming the Anniversary of the Guarderia ABC Tragedy

Angel

Events in Hermosillo, Mexico always begin in the late afternoon. By that time, the worst of the staunching heat – which peaked at 120 degrees Fahrenheit during our five-day trip in early June – has started to give way to a far more forgiving evening breeze. As the desert sun nears the end of its long descent toward the horizon, its strong rays cast an unusual light: a harsh white blanket mixed with hints of orange and pink that grow stronger until they are purple and then a deep and stubborn black. Through the long end of my camera’s lens I happened to catch this light as it fell delicately on the wings of an angel. The angel walked slowly, somberly as if marching toward the glow of heaven.

This captivating image was not a mirage. The angel, a costumed local teenager, was flanked by forty-eight others, each pushing an empty stroller in commemoration of the forty-nine boys and girls aged one to three and a half years old who died in a fire in an Hermosillo daycare center on June 5, 2009. As part of my first project as a summer fellow with N-Map, I had the opportunity to take part in the annual march, held on the anniversary of this tragedy. Thousands of Mexican citizens paraded through the streets of Hermosillo, demanding justice for the children who died unnecessarily. The video, which we hope to release this fall, will be used to support the five-year legal battle waged by the families of the victims against impunity and those whom they believe to be responsible for the death of their children.

The fire in the daycare center known as Guarderia ABC, began in a bodega hazardously located within the same building structure as the daycare center. The fire quickly spread to the guarderia, which, constructed of highly flammable materials, went up in flames and, without a proper emergency exit through which to flee, forty-nine children died either from burns or the many lethal fumes that would have filled their lungs. At 3:30 in the afternoon, hearing of an emergency at the center, the children’s parents quickly flocked to the scene but were shooed away by officials with misinformation. Their children were fine, they were told. They had been taken to local hospitals and could be found there. Manuel Rodriguez Amaya and his wife Malú, spent the afternoon and evening frantically searching area hospitals for their son, Xiunelth. Manuel, recounted the surge of relief that swept through his entire body when a family member reported that he had seen the boy, alive and well, on the television news.

It was a false hope birthed by an illusion. Manuel and Malú’s search would end just after midnight when Manuel identified his son’s body at the morgue. “At 3:30 that afternoon [the police] knew my child was dead,” Manuel told us. “But for nine hours no one told me.” Speaking about that day is understandably hard for Manuel, but the pain of memory pales in comparison to that of impunity. “I’d speak to the devil if I had to in order to get justice for my child,” Manuel told us.

Manuel&Malu

But justice has not come. Five years after the fire, not a single person responsible for the tragedy at Guarderia ABC or the government agencies that oversee the national daycare program has been investigated, much less imprisoned, for the forty-nine children whose lives ended needlessly short. Perhaps even more alarmingly, only .3% of Mexico’s guarderias are in compliance with minimum safety standards, making another tragedy all too likely. Unable to find justice within their own country, the families, organized as the Movimiento 5 de Junio, are taking their case to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. The video we are producing will be a part of the families’ presentation to the Commission, reminding the commissioners of the human faces that once filled the empty strollers now occupied only by angels.

 

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