CHIANG RAI — Having exhausted all other legal channels, parents who lost their young daughters when their school dorm burned down last year in Chiang Rai will seek justice on their own.
Public prosecutors declined to take up their case Monday, and with police previously ruling out criminal charges for the fire that killed 19 children at the Pitakkiat Wittaya School, the families said they have no choice but to file criminal complaints in the hope someone will be held liable.
“They feel hopeless,” said Nattapol Singhtuen, an activist with the children’s welfare foundation that has been assisting the families. “The investigation didn’t go anywhere. It concluded that it was an unpreventable accident, and no one took responsibility.”
Nineteen students died in the May 22 fire at the dormitory of Pitakkiat Wittaya School, an all-girls boarding school for children of impoverished families in the mountainous region. The establishment is run by a Christian charity called Panthakit Suksan Foundation.
No alarms were raised, as the dormitory lacked smoke detectors, fire alarms or any adult supervision as required by law.
Despite that fact, police investigators ruled the blaze an unpreventable accident in June. Officials said the building predated fire safety regulations and was therefore exempt from providing such provisions.
Outraged by the police judgment, families of the victims asked the public prosecutor to look into the matter and take up the case without police involvement. On Tuesday the prosecutor gave the same answer: The fire was caused by a faulty light bulb, an accident “not caused by anyone.”
“Combined with other evidence and witness testimony, we concluded that it was an accident that was not caused by anyone,” prosecutor Chalermkiat Chaiyawan said Tuesday. “There is no evidence or witness warranting a suspect [of a crime].”
Somchart Pipattaradol, who heads the legal department at the Mirror Foundation, said after meeting with the victims’ families that they will go ahead with their own lawsuit. He said they will point out fire safety flaws at the school dorm such as a lack of fire escapes.
Rewat Wassana, director of Pitakkiat Witthaya School, said Wednesday he hadn’t heard about the lawsuit, but was unconcerned because the fire took place in the sleeping hall run by the Panthakit Suksan charity group.
“Our school is not involved in this,” Rewat said. “The incident didn’t happen at the school, but at the charity dorm … it’s a different site.”
One parent reached for comment Wednesday said he hasn’t consulted with the foundation about the pending legal action.
“I can’t think of a solution right now,” said a distraught-sounding Winai Pisailert, whose 11-year-old daughter died in the fire.
Nattapol, another Mirror Foundation activist, said the families will name as defendants the Panthakit Suksan charity group and whoever was responsible for taking care of the children at the time of the accident.
He expects the suits to be filed in March in both criminal and civil courts.