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S. Korean Police Arrest 16 Girls in Reform School Fire That Killed 37

August 22, 1995| From Times Wire Services

SEOUL — Police arrested 16 teen-agers today on charges of killing 37 fellow residents of a South Korean girls reform school by setting it on fire, a police spokesman said.

"We arrested [them] on charges of arson and homicide," he said.

Police said the young women set the fires in a bid to escape when guards unlocked the doors.

The early morning fires swept out of control before the doors were opened to let firefighters in.

Many of the dead were packed into restrooms, and news reports said bloodstains and fingernail scratches on the barred windows showed the women's frantic efforts to escape the flames.

The victims--all but three in their teens--either burned to death or suffocated. One was only 13. Sixteen others were injured.

The school had a history of escape attempts and was known for strict discipline of the girls and women, most of them runaways caught working in brothels and bars. It was run by the Korean Presbyterian Church in Yongin, 35 miles south of Seoul.

Media reports said fires had been set in two other breakout attempts in the past year. Women had complained of poor facilities and harsh treatment for behavior such as smoking and chewing gum.

Diaries found in the ruins of the Kyonggi Women's Technical School told a bleak tale.

"They beat me again today. . . . Life here is so hard that I don't think I can make it through. Sometimes I want to cry. I want to escape. . . . I want to go out. I thought again about killing myself," a teen-age girl wrote.

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