Twenty-four female students who were hospitalized after a mass fainting episode at their boarding house in Tbong Khmum province on Saturday were released with no medical problems on Tuesday, although police and medical workers said they believed they were the victims of a chemical attack.
The girls and women—aged between 12 and 22—were getting ready for bed at a residential facility for Cham Muslim students in Kroch Chhmar district’s Trea commune when they began to fear they were being poisoned, according to one of their teachers, Ly Imron.
“When the girls were preparing to sleep, they heard someone knock on their door,” said Mr. Imron, who owns the house where the students live. “Then one girl yelled ‘Don’t open it!’ and they started to smell something bad.”
The students then began to faint one by one, Mr. Imron said, adding that neighbors who had heard cries of distress came to investigate the chaotic scene.
Hospital staff who examined the students determined they had been the victims of a chemical attack because of their reactions—including vomiting and dizziness in some cases—despite finding no physical traces of any particular substance.
“The victims said…it smelled like acetone,” said Sam Ath, the director of Kroch Chma district referral hospital, where the students were treated.
“We conclude it could be a kind of chemical poison,” he said. “We regret that we cannot find evidence because it was a kind of vapor.”
Mr. Ath added that he had never encountered this kind of mass illness and said that the girls and women were treated with intravenous fluid and bed rest before being sent home.
District police also believe the incident was the result of a chemical attack, and said they had ruled out religious friction as a motivation.
“After investigating we conclude that this case did not involve discrimination over religion because they are an all-Sunni Muslim community,” deputy district police chief Ouk Pov said.
Mr. Pov said there had been a dispute between religious leaders in the community over whether the dorm rooms should be for male or female students.
“It could be the dispute among Cham community leaders who demand to be at the top…and control the school properties,” he said.
“We have not arrested any suspects yet. We are still in the process of investigation.”