22 schoolchildren in the Indian state of Bihar died and an additional 25 students and the school cook were hospitalized after eating a free school lunch that was contaminated with insecticide, the AP reports. The students, who ranged in age from five to 12 years old, were taking part in a program to combat malnourishment, a condition which affects half of India’s children.
After students began vomiting, the school stopped serving the lunch of lentils, rice, potatoes, and soybeans. While it is still unclear how the meals, which were cooked in the school’s kitchen, were contaminated, officials said that the food may not have been properly washed.
The school’s headmistress fled the scene as children began to get sick and now faces charges of criminal negligence. The incident also resulted in the suspension of the official in charge of the food program.
Investigators seized the leftover food and cooking utensils as part of an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the incident, and said that they plan to discover whether the poisoning was accidental or intention.
Tensions ran high in the village of Gandamal, where the incident occurred. Local rioting following the students’ deaths led to the burning of four police cars.