The Enrique Rebsamen school after it collapsed in the 2017 earthquake. The Enrique Rébsamen school after it collapsed in the 2017 earthquake.

School’s owner found guilty in deaths of 26 in 2017 earthquake

Prosecutors seek 57-year sentence for 'Miss Mónica'

The owner and director of a Mexico City private school at which 26 people died during the 7.1 earthquake in 2017 has been found guilty of manslaughter. 

After 10 hours of court proceedings yesterday, judges declared Mónica García Villegas, former owner of the Enrique Rébsamen school, guilty of manslaughter in the deaths of 19 children and seven adults during the September 19 quake. 

Shortly after the collapse of the school, authorities filed a criminal complaint against García, alleging she was negligent in constructing an apartment for her personal use on the roof of a wing of the building. 

Previous remodeling at the school had already damaged the building’s structural stability, of which García was well aware.

But after a warrant was issued for her arrest in 2017, García went into hiding and an Interpol red notice was issued for law enforcement worldwide to assist in her apprehension. 

miss monica
Miss Mónica, left, during an interview with a reporter before her arrest and, right, supervising construction at the school.

She was taken into custody in a Mexico City restaurant in May 2019 after her brother alerted authorities to her location and collected on a 5-million-peso reward.

The trial of the woman students called “Miss Mónica” began on August 12 in Mexico City’s superior court. 

According to a statement from the prosecutor, evidence in the case “was conclusive to establish that the woman was remiss by not complying with the provisions established in construction regulations and urban development law,” which put at risk the school’s students and faculty. 

“It should be noted that the defendant was not only the general director of the private school but also served as senior partner and administrator, ranging from preschool education to secondary education; According to the accusation, she failed to comply with the provisions established in the aforementioned regulations and law,” the statement read.

Mexico City’s Attorney General’s Office requested a 57-year prison sentence. She could face between two and five years for negligence in the deaths of each of the 26 victims, plus a five-year sentence for her culpability in her role as supervisor of the construction project.

The sentence will be handed down on Monday.

Parents of 10 of the dead children addressed the court, demanding justice and urging the judge to hand down a precedent-setting sentence “that makes it clear that no one plays with people’s lives.”

García was remanded to Santa Martha Acatitla women’s prison in Iztapalapa where she has remained since her arrest. She was found guilty two days before the third anniversary of the quake, in which 370 people were killed and more than 6,000 injured.

Earlier this month Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum announced that a memorial for those who lost their lives at the school will be constructed.

Source: El Financiero (sp)

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