MALAYSIA is still reeling from the fire that killed 21 young pupils and two teachers at an Islamic boarding school last Thursday in what is said to be the most deadly incident of its kind in two decades.
The fire broke out at around 5.40 am in a top-floor dormitory in the three-story building, where most of the students – boys aged between 6 and 17, were sleeping in bunk beds, with many of the windows covered by metal grilles. Most of the victims died from smoke inhalation.
As the overly-crammed dormitory had only one entrance, many of the victims were left trapped inside the building and in a heart-wrenching sight, their charred remains were later found piled on top of each other.
Initially, authorities thought the blaze occurred by accident but a deeper probe revealed the fire was sparked by an arson attack carried out by a group of teenagers seeking retribution for a past ‘teasing’ incident.
Turns out the tahfiz fire wasn't an accident, but an act of revenge. This has become more tragic than ever. Allahu.
— Pidot (@ahmdfdaus) September 16, 2017
The investigation led to the arrest of seven youths, aged 11 to 18, who are currently under police custody and being investigated for murder and mischief by fire. And now, a deep-seated debate is taking place on whether the alleged young arsonists should be tried as adults and face widespread calls for the death sentence.
16 years old kids. Just imagine. Burn a tahfiz school out of hate & revenge killed more than 20. It's gonna haunt you forever. Forever.
— محمد فاروق (@FaroukHatta) September 16, 2017
After what had happened to that Tahfiz school, I know realize how fucked up our generation is.
— ✧ (@4qilah) September 16, 2017
At a late night press conference on Saturday, Kuala Lumpur police chief Amar Singh assured the public that the case is solved following the arrests.
On whether the teenage assailants premeditated the deaths of the victims, Amar said their “Intention was to burn, but it could be because of their age or because of their maturity levels, perhaps they may not have known that it would cause deaths.”
Amar also noted that the teenagers were mostly school dropouts and had tested positive for Marijuana use. Some of them also had prior criminal records for “rioting” and “robbery”.
Upon completing their investigation, he said the police will present their findings to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC’S) which will decide on which provisions of the law with which the teenagers would be charged.
Sources told the New Straits Times that the troubled teenagers did not show any sign of remorse even after being picked up by police.
“It’s like they did not have any remorse. The teenagers did not even say that they were sorry for having caused the tragedy.
“All of them just looked down most of the time when being questioned about the incident. Maybe they had accepted that they were in the wrong.
“There was no crying whatsoever to show that they felt sorry, even the young ones,” the source said.
While it may be unlikely that a majority of the teenagers would be treated as adults in court, the heinous degree of the crime committed has left the families of the victims and many netizens wanting them on death row.
If this is true, how do you sleep at night??? You just killed 23 innocent Tahfiz kids. pic.twitter.com/nteyRdt8Vj
— AA (@aliameeraa) September 16, 2017
Ermayani Normatias, the mother of 11 Indrakurniawan Mohd Amirul, who is fighting for his life at a hospital in Kuala Lumpur, said the culprits must not be let off lightly.
“If the seven suspects are indeed guilty, they should be sentenced to death,” she said, as quoted by the NST.
“I am shocked that they are just teenagers but capable of committing such terrible act. They are like extremists and terrorists.
“It is absurd that they have such a mentality at a young age. I read that two suspects have past criminal records but they were freed and brazenly committed yet another crime. There is no guarantee they will change for the better.
“The authorities must investigate what had influenced them to carry out such an act. A death penalty will serve a lesson to others.”
One frustrated citizen told the Malaysian Digest:“An eye for an eye – they deserved the death penalty for taking 23 lives away from the loved ones.”
“They should be hanged to death for their crime. Because of petty teasing, they succumb to murder. How were these animals raised?” another said.
Another citizen echoed the calls, saying: “As cruel as it is, they are deserving of the death penalty – but their sentence is no more vicious than what they have done. Their punishment will remind people that taking lives is never permissible.”
While many have called for the harshest penalties to be imposed, others were looking to forgive.
The brother of Mohd Yusof Md, a teacher who perished in the blaze said he has forgiven the alleged arsonists.
“I have forgiven them and I believe that they just wanted to scare off the students and didn’t mean to kill them,” 42-year-old Nor Azam told the NST, adding he believed that the teenagers were immature in making decisions.
“I hope this tragic incident will be a lesson to other teenagers,” he added.
The father of 13-year-old victim Muhammad Nizammudin Nasrun said he has also forgiven the culprits responsible for the tragedy.
“I accept the incident as fate. The tragedy has happened. There is nothing I can do to bring Nizammudin back,” Nasrun Mat Yusuf, 46, said.
“I forgive them (the suspects). I cannot bring myself to meet them or their families yet because it will only remind me of my dead son.
Nasrun also said he will let law take its course.
“But I hope they and their future generations will receive guidance from God after what had happened.”