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High-level Mexican officials not to blame in day-care center fire, Supreme Court says

Abc fire parent victim Mexico's Supreme Court declined this week to hold any high-level authorities responsible for a day-care center fire last year that killed 49 children, Ken Ellingwood reports in The Times. Parents of the victims had sought help from the Supreme Court as investigations into the fire have proceeded slowly, with several low-level authorities facing charges but, so far, no one behind bars.

The case is seen by many Mexicans as a stark symbol of persistent failings of the country's justice system.

On June 5, 2009, fire ripped through the ABC day-care center in the northern city of Hermosillo, leaving 75 other children injured and sparking a national outcry for justice for the victims' families. Investigations revealed startling safety lapses, and as reported earlier this month, suspicions linger that the blaze was intentionally set. Boxes of tax records ignited in a government-leased warehouse next door to the day-care center, and then the fire spread.

Wednesday's decision by the Supreme Court to turn down a justice's recommendation that several high-level officials -- including the then-governor of Sonora state, Eduardo Bours -- be named as responsible was seen as a major setback by parents of the ABC victims.

"The court had in its hands a historic opportunity to do something for the people of Mexico, and they didn't do it," said Patricia Duarte, a parent of one of the children who died in the blaze.

Responding on Friday to renewed outrage about the case, Interior Secretary Fernando Gomez Mont said at a news conference that the court ruled justly and freely, and that separate government investigations and civil suits in the case are ongoing. Gomez Mont promised new universal safety standards for facilities such as ABC, a government preschool run by private operators. Meanwhile, the parents say now that they will turn to international tribunals to seek justice for their children.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: A parent of a child who died in the 2009 ABC day-care center fire. Credit: Associated Press, via El Informador.

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Ken Ellingwood
Daniel Hernandez
Efrain Hernandez Jr.
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Richard Marosi
Tracy Wilkinson