March 28 (UPI) — As authorities try to find the cause of a shopping mall fire that killed 64 people, mostly children, the owner of a business there said it was sparked by a group who’d been escorted off the property.
Nadezhda Suddenok, director of the company that rents the top two floors of the mall, said she believes the fire is a case of arson.
According to court documents, Suddenok said a group of 17- to 27-year olds who had previously been escorted out of the mall set the place on fire.
“These teenagers were of different nationalities, I can’t say which nationality exactly, but with a black beard, like those worn by people of the Chechen, Caucasus, nationality,” she said.
Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Russian Investigative Committee, told Kremlin President Vladimir Putin the cause was most likely a short circuit.
The Sunday blaze at the four-story Zimnyaya Vishnya shopping mall in Siberia eventually engulfed the area. Forty-one children were among the dead and 76 people were injured.
Russian authorities say the fire exits were blocked and no alarm sounded when flames went through the mall — and said there were “serious violations.”
Funerals for the dead began in Kemerovo Wednesday, with the first services taking place at the Kirovskoye cemetery.
Putin declared Wednesday a national day of mourning, and said a criminal investigation has been launched. Five people have so far been detained in connection with the fire.