DENVER (AP) — Three teenagers have been arrested in connection with a house fire in Denver that killed five recent immigrants, including two children, from the West African nation of Senegal, police said Wednesday.
Chief Paul Pazen said the suspects — two 16-year-olds and a 15-year-old — were being held for investigation of first-degree murder, burglary, assault and arson. The evidence does not indicate that the crime was bias-motivated, and police cannot release many additional details about what happened because of the ages of the suspects, Pazen said.
“While we are saddened, we are also thankful that those who allegedly committed this crime were brought to justice and placed in custody,” he said.
A $50,000 reward had been offered for information leading to the arrests of those responsible for the Aug. 5 blaze, including $10,000 from the Colorado chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The group had called on police to consider the possibility of a hate crime.
Shortly after the fire, police released a surveillance photo showing three suspects wearing full face masks and hoodies. Investigators say the three fled in a dark-colored sedan after the fire was set in the Green Valley Ranch neighborhood, a relatively new development of closely spaced homes near Denver International Airport.
Killed were Djibril and Adja Diol, along with their 22-month-old daughter Khadija, as well as relative Hassan Diol and her infant daughter Hawa Baye.
Three other people managed to escape by jumping from the second floor of the home. They were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.
“It’s been a rough year, not just for us but for all of us because of the pandemic. But on top of that, having to deal with the loss of beautiful people like these,” said Papa Dia, a family spokesman who also is a Senegalese immigrant. “We are grateful, but we are still in pain. Arrest has been made, but we know it’s not going to bring these beautiful people back.”
Police, fire officials and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are still investigating because there are indications that the fire was arson. Authorities have not elaborated on the evidence because they say they do not want to compromise the investigation.
The blaze was first reported by a police officer at 2:40 a.m. An officer trying to rescue people was pushed back by the fire’s heat. It appeared that those who died were all on the first floor.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said Wednesday he had spoken to Senegal Consul General Elhadji Ndao about the arrests. Hancock described the fire as “one of the most heinous crimes I’ve ever seen or witnessed in our city, as mayor or otherwise. … It hit me to the core.”