Man sets four lesbians on fire, killing three, in Buenos Aires boarding house

The attack may be ‘the most abhorrent hate crime in recent years,’ according to the Argentine LGBT Federation

Anti-femicide campaigners march on June 3 in La Pampa, Argentina.

Updated 13 May 2024

Three women have died and a fourth suffered severe burns after their neighbor set them on fire in a Buenos Aires boarding house on Monday.

Pamela Cobas, 52, died hours after the attack. Mercedes Roxana Figueroa, also 52, passed away on Wednesday after suffering burns over 90% of her body. The death of Andrea Amarante, 42, was confirmed on Sunday. The fourth victim remains in hospital.

The police did not immediately announce the motive behind the attack. However, according to a statement by the Argentine LGBT Federation, the attack on the two couples is “potentially one of the most abhorrent hate crimes in recent years.” 

You may also be interested in: ‘It’s hatred’: Argentina’s queer community reeling from brutal triple lesbicide

The women were set on fire in the room they shared. The fire spread to the rest of the building, causing the evacuation of the boarding house in Barracas. Seven people were hospitalized. 

Their attacker has been identified as Justo Fernando Barrientos, 62, who lived in the room next to the women in the boarding house, on Olavarría Street.

Residents of the boarding house who witnessed the attack told LGBTQIA+ news site Presentes that when the women managed to escape the flames in their room, Barrientos beat and pushed them. 

“When they left the room, as they were on fire, he hit them and pushed them back into the fire,” said Sergio Araujo, 36, who lives on the second floor of the building. “Five of us were trying to separate him from her so he’d stop hitting her,” added Diego Brítez, 51, who also lives on the second floor.

Figueroa and Cobas had been receiving care at the Burn Victims Hospital. Amarante was taken to Penna Hospital with burns over half of her body. The fourth victim is also receiving treatment at Penna Hospital, where she is responding well to care, according to police sources. 

‘Her worst nightmares became a reality’

Amarante was a survivor of the 2004 Cromañón tragedy, when a fire during a rock concert in the Once district of Buenos Aires killed 194 people and injured 1,432. The disaster remains one of the deadliest tragedies in music history.

“Andrea was on the streets and slept where she could. Twenty years later, Andrea’s worst fears and nightmares became a reality,” wrote victims’ association Coordinadora Cromañón in a statement. They added that Amarante was never included on the Buenos Aires City Government’s register of victims, was not in the health program created for survivors, and did not receive any economic support.

Barrientos was arrested and taken to the Argerich Hospital for treatment of an apparent self-inflicted neck wound, according to Buenos Aires’ emergency services. He was later discharged and is currently in police custody.

The case, which began as an arson investigation, is now being treated as a homicide by the Criminal and Correctional Court #14.

Culture of violence and discrimination

Firefighters found several burned rags that had been soaked in flammable liquid. Police sources say the fire department did not find any glass debris in the women’s room, indicating that the attacker did not use a Molotov cocktail in the attack.  

The boarding house has 20 rooms, according to Presentes. It has around 30 residents, including street vendors, cardboard recyclers and pensioners, who share a bathroom and kitchen.

“Hate crimes are the result of a culture of violence and discrimination, sustained by hate speech currently endorsed by several government officials,” the Federation stated in a press release.

“The only spaces to which those of us who are victims of these attacks can resort are being emptied or eliminated by the current government, like the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI).

“We will support them and help them and their families in whatever they need, and will follow the case in court so justice is served.” 

A protest was held outside Argentina’s national Congress on Friday afternoon. The organizers demanded justice for the victims and denounced the attack as lesbicide — killing of the women because of their sexual orientation.


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