DENVER – Denver authorities on Wednesday announced the arrests of three teenagers accused of setting an August house fire that killed five members of the city’s Senegalese community, including two young children.
Two 16-year-old boys and one 15-year-old boy each face a total of 28 felony charges, including 10 first-degree murder charges. They also face attempted first-degree murder charges, as well as multiple counts of first-degree assault, burglary and arson.
Djibril Diol, 29, and Adja Diol, 23, were killed Aug. 5 alongside their 3-year-old daughter, Khadija. Djibril Diol’s sister, Hassan Diol, 25, and her infant daughter, Hawa Baye, also died in the fire.
Despite the nationality and race of the victims, detectives have uncovered no evidence that the crime was motivated by bias, according to Denver police officials.
“Due to the extensive work by our investigators and our federal partners, the evidence we uncovered, we are very confident to say we don’t believe this is a bias-motived crime,” Denver police Chief Paul Pazen said at a news conference Wednesday. “If facts change as the investigation and prosecution continues, we can add that.”
The suspects, who are known to one another, are not related. Because of their ages, no additional information about their identities was released.
Details about the case, including the evidence against the suspects, were also being withheld to “protect the integrity of the case,” Pazen said.
The chief said he was confident that the investigation, which included assistance from the Denver Fire Department; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the Secret Service, had led detectives to the right individuals.
“This was as complex of an investigation as I’m aware of in my entire career,” Pazen said. “They did an amazing job. I cannot give away the details. This is very sensitive information because successful prosecution is critical in this case.”
It was unclear if the teens would be charged as adults. That determination will be made by prosecutors.
“Today marks the first step in making sure we hold people responsible for this crime,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said.
Authorities said the deadly fire broke out around 2:30 a.m. Aug. 5 at the family’s home at 5312 North Truckee St. in the Green Valley Ranch neighborhood. Denver fire officials said the fire was “heavily involved” when firefighters arrived.
Video recorded by multiple witnesses shows flames erupting from the home.
“I really hope they got outside,” a neighbor is heard saying in one video.
Neighbor Maria Mendoza told The Associated Press she awoke to noise and someone screaming, “Get the baby out! Get the baby out!” She said she ran to a window and saw flames and smoke pouring out of the home.
“I awoke my husband, and he ran outside to see if he could help. But there was nothing he could do. The fire was too big,” Mendoza said.
The first police officers to arrive at the scene attempted to get through the flames to rescue those still inside but were pushed back by the heat.
Three adults inside the house at the time of the fire were able to jump from a second-floor window and escape, police officials said. The rest of the family perished.
In the aftermath of the arson, police released a chilling image of three suspects dressed in hoodies and wearing full white face masks on their faces. They also released images of a dark-colored, four-door sedan in which they fled the area.
The killings stunned Denver’s Senegalese community, of which the Diols were prominent members. Papa Dia, founder of the African Leadership Group in Denver, said in August that the Denver metro area has about 2,000 Senegalese nationals living there.
Members of the community had their hearts “shattered” by the killings, Dia said.
“We consider ourselves part of this society, part of this great nation we call home,” he said. “This is a time we don’t want to feel alone. This is a time we want the U.S. born citizens to embrace us.”
Hancock said the day after the fire that the city stood behind the victims and their loved ones.
“You’d better best believe that this is something that none of us in this city or this state or in this nation should stand for, no matter what happened,” Hancock said, according to CBS Denver.
On Wednesday, Dia praised the support the people of Colorado had shown his grieving community.
“We are immigrants that came all the way from Africa to seek opportunity in this great nation,” Dia said at the news conference. “It’s so sad that part of our community … in that process of seeking opportunities, their life was tragically taken. Nevertheless, in this horrific time, the entire Colorado community embraced us.”
Dia said the arrests would not erase the damage done to the family and the community.
“Arrests have been made, but we know it’s not going to bring these beautiful people back,” he said. “Our message is let’s embrace one another. Let’s love each other.”
Watch the news conference about Wednesday’s arrests below.
Djibril Diol, nicknamed Djiby by his family, came to the U.S. from Senegal more than 10 years before the tragedy, according to the Islamic Center of Fort Collins. He graduated in December 2018 with a degree in civil engineering from Colorado State University.
According to a profile by CSU, Diol was the first in his family to graduate from college. His goal, he told the university, was to someday build roads and infrastructure in rural Senegal.
First, however, he wanted to learn more from the industry in the U.S. and possibly earn a graduate degree.
“You can learn from the bigger picture here in the U.S. and apply it to the smaller picture back home,” Diol said. “You learn things you didn’t think about doing before, things you can apply to the places you want to build tomorrow.”
At the time of his death, Diol worked for Kiewit Construction. Co-workers of his joined the family as the Muslim community held a day of mourning for Diol and his family the day after the fire.
The Islamic Center wrote in August that Diol was using his job to help his family, both in the U.S. and back home.
“He was a very respectful, helpful, bright, religious man, and an energetic person who was a help to his family that lived in the U.S. and to the majority that still reside in Senegal,” a post on the center’s Facebook page read. “He was a tall man with an even bigger heart.
“We ask Allah to forgive the misdeeds, accept the good deeds, and to make strong the faith and patience of the family and friends who are now mourning his loss.”
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