02:34 - Source: CNN
Dozens killed in Malaysia school fire

Story highlights

Victims appeared to have been trapped by grills on windows

Minister: 29 similar incidents involving fires at religious schools.

Kuala Lumpur CNN  — 

At least 21 students have been killed after a fire broke out at a school in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur early Thursday morning.

Witnesses reported being awoken Thursday by cries for help from inside the burning building, where children appeared trapped by metal window grills.

“I saw children kicking on the grill, but they couldn’t get out. My friends and I rushed over and tried to reach them, but we couldn’t get in,” Shahirman Shahril told CNN.

When emergency responders arrived, “almost 90% of the building was already on fire,” a fire and rescue department official told reporters.

Two adults also died in the the blaze, while four other victims suffered serious injuries.

“The firemen could hear cries for help from inside the building,” spokesman Soiman Jahid said. “The first team from (the) fire station managed to save five of the children from the lower level.”

Forensic police officer investigates burnt windows at an Islamic religious school following a fire on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur Thursday, Sept. 14.

Children tried to kick open grills on windows

Firefighters found badly burned bodies in three locations, Jahid said. Many victims found were piled on top of each other, while another was discovered in front of the main door.

“Based on my observation, the building has grills that could not be opened from inside,” he said. “Because of the grills, they could not escape through the windows, except for the five students who escaped through the door and sought help from the firemen.”

One of two fire exits in the building had been blocked by renovations taking place on the second floor, Jahid told CNN. Photos from the scene show fire damage to the top floor of the three-story Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah Tahfiz school.

Nik Azlan Nik Abdul Kadir (L), father of one of the victims comforts his wife outside the school in Kuala Lumpur on September 14.

Identifying the victims could take days, Subramaniam told reporters at Kuala Lumpur General Hospital.

Identification of the victims could still take days, Health Minister Dr S Subramaniam told reporters at Kuala Lumpur General Hospital.

“The bodies suffered severe burns to the point that it is difficult to confirm the identities,” he said.

Photos from the scene showed fire damage to the top floor of the three-story Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah Tahfiz school.

Norhayati Khalid was on her way to hospital to identify a body believed to be her son, 11-year-old Amin Ashraf. She’d last seen him a day earlier, she said

“I brought him some chicken floss buns, (and) my son passed me a handwritten note to say he’s happy here at the school and he wants to be a ‘hafiz’ (someone who memorizes the Quran) so that he can take us to heaven,” she told CNN.

Melted bunk beds inside the second floor of the Kuala Lumpur religious school which caught fire on Thursday morning.

“We moved him here three months ago from Kelantan, and it’s a popular school among the students and teachers,” she said. “We didn’t have to pay any school fees.”

Investigators were examining whether a electric short circuit had caused the fire, but Deputy Inspector General of Police Noor Rashid Ibraham said a conclusion hadn’t been reached yet.

The victims were between 13 and 17 years old, Ibraham said. Asked about younger victims, he said DNA testing would be required.

Ibraham said the building was new and had been used as a religious school specializing in Quranic studies.

Police and rescue personnel work at an Islamic religious school cordoned off after a fire on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur  Thursday, Sept. 14.

School shouldn’t have been open, official says

There have been 29 similar incidents in the past involving fires at religious schools, Noh told reporters. He did not specify a timeframe.

The school’s license was being reviewed by the authorities and it should not have been in operation, Noh told reporters.

Six students and a member of the public were injured in the incident, Health Minister Subramaniam confirmed.

A relative of a teenage student cries after a fire broke out at a religious school in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 14 September.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak expressed his sympathy for those affected.

“Deeply saddened to hear Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah Tahfiz Center burned and that more than 20 lives were lost,” he tweeted. “May their souls be blessed by Allah SWT. Al Fatihah.”

Malaysian media earlier reported that 25 people were killed, 23 students and two wardens.