Burials began Wednesday for the victims of a fire that tore through a mall in Siberia, killing dozens of children between the ages of ten and 13, The Daily Mail reports.
The number of dead remains uncertain. Officials say 64 people died in Sunday’s fire. Local activists and families of the victims claim that number should be higher and that they have a list of 85 missing persons.
Confusion in recording the names of the dead, which included many who shared surnames, and difficulty identifying bodies may have led to the discrepancy, a spokesman for the activists told The Daily Mail.
Russia’s lead investigator looking into the fire blames a short-circuited wire as the most likely cause, according to The Moscow Times.
A series of safety failures seemed to have led to one of the deadliest Russian building fires in recent memory. Locked emergency exits turned a crowded movie theater into a giant crematorium. An entire class of schoolchildren, roughly 40, were trapped inside with adults.
“For a long time there was a high temperature in the building, many bodies literally turned to ashes,” the spokesman said.
Elsewhere in the mall, fire alarms stayed silent causing the blaze to catch some unaware without enough time to escape.
Family members received frantic phone calls from loved ones trapped inside the theater before the victims feinted from the heat and lack of air. One parent related a call, “My son was crying and asked, ‘When will we be rescued?'”
Friends and family of the victims begged firefighters to attempt to save the trapped people, but emergency personnel insisted on finding the source of the fire before taking any other action. Some bystanders attempted to rush up to the mall’s fourth story where the theater was located but were held back, according to witness reports collected by The Daily Mail.
“Other men and I tried to get to the 4th level, but the rescuers were holding us back and did not let us go,” One witness said. “I breathed in so much smoke, I was coughing with black for another day.”
Hundreds of protesters marched through the Siberian city of Kemerovo on Tuesday demanding justice. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited a memorial for the dead and promised to find those guilty of “criminal negligence and carelessness,” CNN reports.
Protesters stood outside government offices hurling demands of “Resign!” and accusations of “Murderers!”
“A lot of children died. They died because of irresponsibility of management,” local resident Svetlana Shestakova told CNN. “I am shocked that they are hiding the truth from us.”
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