A bus packed with children was reportedly in a cash in Colombia on May 20, killing at least 32 people after it burst into flames. The bus was picking up children from an event at a church in the town of Fundacion.
“Everyone started to scream and run,” a child who was on the bus told CNN affiliate Caracol TV, describing how he escaped through a window.
Twenty others were hospitalized, with about half in a delicate state, Duran said.
President Juan Manuel Santos interrupted a busy final stretch of campaigning ahead of the May 25 elections and traveled Sunday night to the town near the Caribbean coast to pay his respects to the mostly poor families of the victims. He called for a thorough investigation to prevent more such tragedies and declared a national day of mourning.
“We are with you. The entire country is with you,” Santos said.
The children, ranging in age from toddlers to 12, were traveling home from Sunday school classes at a small Pentecostal church down the road from a nearby town where Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez was born.
Nelson Tapias, a 54-year-old merchant in the town, said he lost his granddaughter and several nephews. “I have my heart torn apart in six pieces,” he told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
Bus accidents are frequent in Colombia, especially in poorer, rural areas like the one near Fundacion where safety inspections and transit laws are rarely enforced.
Gen. Carlos Mena, the highway police commander overseeing operations in Fundacion, said the driver was operating the bus without a license or mandatory insurance. The 1993 Dodge’s registration papers were also out of date and the bus was carrying twice the maximum number of passengers allowed.
Authorities would not say where the driver, identified as Jaime Gutierrez, was being held, for fear he could be harmed by outraged residents in the rural town of 80,000 people.
The whereabouts of the pastor, Roberto Padilla, was also unknown.
“Last night they wanted to burn him alive, so for his own safety they removed him from the town,” Fanny Valseiro, who has been attending services at the church for more than a decade, told AP News.