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on the border line between the US and Mexico

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Court Compensates Victim's Family Twelve Years After Arson That Killed 49 Children in Sonora Daycare

"Morogris" for Borderland Beat

The children are oftentimes referred to as the 49 Angels

Over twelve years ago, on 5 June 2009, the ABC Daycare (Spanish: Guardería ABC) in Hermosillo, Sonora, reported a large fire. 49 toddlers and infants were trapped inside and died asphyxiated from the smoke inhalation.

The fire started after a government archives building next to the daycare facility was caught on fire. For many years, family members complained that the government was not doing enough for the victims and that they were concealing information about the case.

Evidence points that the government building next to the daycare was set on fire intentionally to destroy sensitive documents about the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), but no one arrested for the crime is in prison today.

Last week, a Mexican court finally agreed to pay reparations for one child who was injured in the fire. In the motion, the child's mother said that her daughter had suffered physical and emotion damage that have caused her to live with a costly, long-term trauma.

The court ordered the Sonora Executive Commission of Attention to Victims (CEAV) to pay the family MXN$10 million (about US$502,745).

But many family members still fear the case has been subject to a carpetazo, an attempt by the government to close the files (carpeta in Spanish) and bury the investigation. 


The fire started shortly before 3:00 p.m. All of the children were in their nap time. Some of the care staff had finished their shift at 2:45 p.m. while others were out for lunch. There was an emergency call for employees who were out on their break to assist in the evacuation, but none of them were able to make it on time.

According to investigators, there was one adult employee for every 8 to 10 children, which made the evacuation very difficult.

"The daycare employees never performed an evacuation drill during the children's nap time. They were not trained to react in a situation of this magnitude," officials said.

Depiction of one of the daycare rooms

Approximately 150 children were inside the daycare when the incident occurred. One parent rammed his vehicle on the daycare's walls to help alleviate the smoke inside and help others escape. The death toll could have been much higher had it not been for people outside the building who helped in the evacuation.

Firefighters reached the scene nine minutes after the first emergency call. It took them about 30 minutes to put down the fire.

The daycare had passed an inspection a week before the fire, but it lacked proper emergency exits (only one was working, and all of them opened from the outside), the smoke detectors were improperly installed, and the windows were too high to get children out in case of an emergency.

One person rammed his vehicle on the daycare's walls to help children escape

Authorities said that the worst factor was that a tarpaulin had been placed as a false ceiling immediately below the actual roof, which trapped the smoke from leaving the building. The fire detectors were placed immediately below the tarpaulin.

Cause of the fire
According to investigations conducted by the Mexican government, the arson was started after an air conditioner from the adjacent government building caught on fire. Since the doors of the building were locked, the fire spread through its roofs and made its way to the daycare facility.

However, several of the children's parents said that the government investigation was inconclusive, and they hired independent fire experts to look at the evidence.

One of them was David Mitchell Smith, an Arizona-based fire and explosion consultant who founded the Associated Fire Consultants, Inc. He has investigated fires for insurance companies, publicly traded corporations, and government agencies in the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Smith determined that the fire at the government warehouse was intentional.
People remember the children by placing decorations outside the daycare facility

"Someone definitely started the fire, closed the warehouse's doors, and then left", Smith said in a report.

He determined that the fire was caused by a corrosive liquid that was purposely spilled or that may have been stored on the premises. Smith said that it was impossible for the air conditioner to start the fire because it was made out of metal and was far away from the spot where the ignition started.

He also said that the "breakers" (the electric box) was not turned on during the fire, which meant that electricity was not running through the building when the arson started.

Convictions and developments
Throughout the last decade, the daycare owners and various public officials were prosecuted. A total of 22 people faced trial and 19 of them received prison terms. But no high-ranking government official was ever held responsible for what happened.

Most of the 19 who were convicted worked in the daycare. All of them were given various sentences, but no one was sentenced to more than 30 years. All of them were prosecuted for homicidio culposo (similar to the U.S. manslaughter charge).

Parents remember their children in Mexico City protest

Since this charge does not include the prerequisite of (1) premeditation and/or (2) intent to kill, they were able to take their cases to various appeals courts and were granted early releases after paying fines. No one who was convicted for the arson is currently in prison.

Private investigators hired by the children's parents determined through witnesses with supposed insider information that the fire was masterminded by Carlos Lam Félix, a sub-secretary under former Sonora Governor Eduardo Bours.

Witnesses told investigators that Lam hired his bodyguard Carlos Andrés López Meza ("El Teniente") and two other people to set the government archives building on fire because it had sensitive information about the PRI under Governor Eduardo Bours. The documents were believed to be sensitive enough to affect "future government elections", which reportedly included information about misuse of government resources and illicit enrichment.

El Teniente, however, was murdered two months after the arson. He was shot three times on his head and six times on his chest. His murder is currently unsolved.

Sources: Azteca Noticias; Borderland Beat archives


  1. The pictures of the kids are haunting

  2. Saddest story I've read on BB this year. The pictures break my heart. I hope the families are able to find justice, although that seems to be too much to ask for given what the article says about the case. Gracias BB.

  3. So sad. R.I.P.

  4. Wasn't the day care owned by one of Mayo's relatives?

    1. I believe that was the daycare "Niño Feliz", owned by the following relatives of El Mayo:

      María Teresa Zambada Niebla, Maite Díaz Zambada, Javier Ernesto Díaz Zambada, and Rosa María Zazueta Zambada.

    2. not mayo but Felipe Calderón and he did nothing.

  5. That is terrible. I wonder:
    1. What the going extortion kickback will be back to the judge that awarded the roughly $500k?
    2. If any of the 19 people doing prison time had anything to do with the day care.
    3. Is the word day “care” appropriate?
    Comandante Curioso

    1. Family got 500,000 USD which is a lot of money in Mexico. A lot. Equivalent to a few million for someone in the US. But lawyers in cases like these charge a lot of money too. I knew of a friend who had a legal issue with a property she owned in Mexico (there was an accident in a land she rented to a company). She ended up being absolved but the case cost her like 50K USD or so for just a year. And that was cheap compared to other lawyers. Now imagine 12+ years in a country that moves damn slow and bribes are common...

      - El Choclo

    2. 5⁰0 000 US dollars for about 100 victims, 50 000 each, after lawyers fees they will be lucky if they get 5 dollars to pocket.

  6. That is soo messed up godam why would someone do this

    1. 6:03 arsonists were trying to cover-up former governor eduardo bours financial misdeeds, they even chose the building to store the archives with the idea of burning it all and murdered El Teniente to keep him quiet.

  7. What a crazy story. I had read very briefly about the case but didn’t know most of the details. This happened in 2009, long before social media news sharing really kicked off. That would had brought more attention to the case. I hope the family members find peace.

  8. Probably in the 10 or more years I’ve been reading this site this story honestly has me choked up the most. I can’t recall remembering this when it happened but that would have been front page news in every country I’m sure.

  9. So I want to tell everyone , that I don't like to see innocent children killed or neglected or abused , I think it's too soon for me to tell my story and I figure no one cares, my nana was from yugoslavia and she migrated here and bought a house in Norwalk California before there was fences or roads , she raised five children and in the depression ,when I was born my mom abandoned me and left me with my nana , I went through alot at age 15 when my nana died and headed to Mexico , my aunt's took the property and money I was left on my own , I went through alot on my own and ,,,,,,,,, I'm writing a book about my life so , when it comes to children suffering or being abused or killed it's a very sensitive situation for me , ,,,

    1. I’m sorry for your unfortunate experience. No child should ever have to endure through heartache or trauma. And yes your story does matter. It is from these narratives that we learn how to better the world. Pero si, todos fallamos. A veces sin querer andamos fallando. Tu no te agüites guerita.

    2. I went to HS and with a girl of Yugoslavian descent that was born in Tijuana. Her name stated with an "M" .

    3. I think I may know you, I wrote the comment about the Yugoslavia girl from TJ, I also lived in Norwalk.

    4. Gracias sol , I really appreciate this , you have no idea ,,,,gracias

  10. Hey Mexicans, easy solution to your problems…just fuck up your local governor. He is in charge of your state and root cause of your Problems. I know I should not say this but it’s true.

    1. It's the demand for drugs.

    2. 2:03 the kids killed and the ones who survived did not have anything to do with stolen state moneys, reason for the arson.
      There was no proof of drug deals from the governor either.
      I think the grifa sock up yor ass is making you see things...


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