July 19th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

School principal missing after lunch deaths in India

By Harmeet Shah Singh, Sumnima Udas and Ashley Fantz, CNN

Bihar, India (CNN) - A father holds his limp child in his arms, carrying her from the school he trusted to take care of her. A video camera focuses on his face locked in total anguish. Everyone around him is shouting. He goes to the back of an open van and struggles to keep the white blanket he's wrapped around his child's body from slipping as he lays the body down.The mother of a 5-year-old repeatedly calls her daughter's name.

Why aren't you coming back, she pleads.

"Why isn't anyone bringing Dipu back?!"

These moments came in the wake of the deaths of 23 Indian children who were poisoned by school lunches they were given Tuesday, authorities say.

The students, who authorities said were between the ages of 5 and 12, started vomiting soon after their first bite of rice and potatoes at their government primary school in the northern state of Bihar. Some fainted.

Earlier, authorities had said 22 children had died, but on Thursday district magistrate Abhijit Sinha explained that one deceased boy had not been counted in the initial death toll because his father had taken his body without handing it over for autopsy.

Grief and anger so permeate this poverty-stricken community that parents of at least three children have buried their lost ones near the school - one right in front of the building, according to CNN journalists who saw the burial mounds. Sinha told CNN that the burials were acts of protest.

Demonstrations have popped up around the area as people seek answers about how this tragedy could have happened. One video segment showed men apparently attacking a school bus with sticks. Others gathered and held signs.

Students at nearby schools refused to eat.

"I am scared now. ... There is fear in our hearts," one child told CNN sister network CNN-IBN.

Meanwhile, a top federal official said authorities had warned of safety problems with the state's school meal program months ago.

And police told CNN that investigators have been unable to find the headmistress of the school in order to question her.

Authorities have not named the headmistress and her husband, whom they also want to interview, local police chief Sujit Kumar said Thursday.

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