SAO PAULO (AP) — The death in the stands of a 14-year-old boy during Corinthians' match in Bolivia was an accident and the team and its fans weren't to blame, the president of the Brazilian club said on Thursday.
Bolivian Kevin Beltran Espada was killed after he was hit in the face by a flare apparently thrown by someone in the Corinthians fan section during a Copa Libertadores match against San Jose on Wednesday.
Twelve Corinthians fans were arrested and remain in custody in the city of Oruro, some 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of La Paz.
Club president Mario Gobbi doesn't think Corinthians or its fans should be held responsible.
"You either have proof that someone used the flare with the intention to hit a person, or it's a fatality," Gobbi said. "From what I have seen so far it appears to have been an accident, something that didn't happen on purpose."
Brazil Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo released a statement calling the fan violence "unacceptable" and asking for harsh punishment.
"I'd like to express my deepest sorrow for the death of the Bolivian youngster," he said. "The Sports Ministry is waiting for the results of the investigation so there can be exemplary punishment for those responsible."
The South American football federation said it wants the Bolivian federation to issue a thorough report on what happened at Jesus Bermudez Stadium so it can decide whether to punish Corinthians, which is the tournament's defending champion and the world club champion.
"CONMEBOL, and especially president Nicolas Leoz, laments the death of the 14-year-old," federation spokesman Nestor Benitez told The Associated Press. "The loss of life is always painful, even more because it happened in a football environment where people just wanted to enjoy a Copa Libertadores match."
The incident happened after Corinthians scored just five minutes into the match and the nearly 200 Brazilian supporters who made the trip to Bolivia celebrated. Television images showed what appeared to be the flare flying from the Corinthians fan section into the nearby Bolivians fans.
"There is enough evidence showing that they (Brazilian supporters) threw the device," police officer Antenor Medrano told the AP.
Corinthians, Brazil's second most popular club behind Flamengo, said it feels the Bolivian police are apt to properly investigate the case, but it wants CONMEBOL to look into possible flaws in the security provided at the stadium before analyzing any possible punishment for the club.
Police were expected to interrogate all 12 Corinthians fans on Thursday and they will be heard by a judge on Friday.
Espada died as he arrived in the hospital with severe head injuries caused by the flare, which hit him in the right eye region.
The Group 5 match, which was not interrupted, ended 1-1. It was the teams' opening match in this year's competition.
"I want to apologize, we are very sad," Corinthians coach Tite said after the match.
Associated Press writers Carlos Valdez in La Paz, Bolivia, Pedro Servin in Asuncion, Paraguay, and Marco Sibaja in Brasilia, Brazil, contributed to this report.