The Denver Post
Jan. 27—A community haunted for months by ghostly images of three masked figures who set the fire that killed five members of a Senegalese family — including two young children — finally received some long-sought answers Wednesday.
Denver police arrested three teenagers on suspicion of first-degree murder in connection with the Aug. 5 arson fire in Green Valley Ranch that killed Djibril Diol, his wife Adja and their 2-year-old daughter Khadija Diol, as well as his sister, Hassan Diol, and her infant daughter, Hawa Beye.
The arrests were the culmination of a six-month investigation by Denver homicide detectives with assistance from the Denver Fire Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Secret Service.
The only clues police previously had shared were photos of a car leaving the scene and stark, black-and-white images of three suspects wearing hoods and full masks over their faces.
“This was as complex of an investigation as I’m aware of in my entire career,” Denver police Chief Paul Pazen said during a Wednesday news conference announcing the arrests.
The shocking crime that sent fear through Colorado’s Senegalese community is still shrouded in secrecy, as police withheld most details, including the suspects’ names, because the three are juveniles. Two 16-year-old boys and one 15-year-old boy were arrested Wednesday morning at their homes in Jefferson County, police said.
The three teens know each other, but are not related, police said
Papa Dia, a local leader of the African community, declared Wednesday “a great day” because of the arrests, but noted that his community remains on guard as questions about the motive of the crime remain unanswered.
At the news conference, police said evidence does not suggest the killings were a hate crime. Concerns within the Sengalese community arose following the fire that they had been targeted as African immigrants.
“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,” Pazen said. “If facts change as the investigation and prosecution continues, we can add that.”
Pazen said he could not provide further information about a possible motive to protect the integrity of the case and ensure a successful prosecution.
Dia, founder of the African Leadership Group and a Denver resident, spoke during the news conference, saying the state of Colorado showed up to support his grieving community, opening doors and hearts to people in crisis.
“We are immigrants that came all the way from Africa to seek opportunity in this great nation,” Dia said. “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 there remain concerns among members of the Senegalese community because they don’t have answers as to why someone would commit such a crime, but he understands the need to protect the case.
Mayor Michael Hancock also addressed the media Wednesday, noting he couldn’t remember a time when he showed up to a news conference following a Denver police arrest — but that this was one of the most heinous crimes he had ever seen in the city, as mayor or otherwise.
“It hit me to the core,” Hancock said. “Many of us… have wondered to ourselves… who could commit such a crime to such a beautiful family.”
Pazen, Hancock and Dia thanked the law enforcement and fire authorities who worked on the case.
After the fire at 5312 N. Truckee St., Denver police opened a homicide investigation, saying there was evidence the fire was intentionally set. Three other residents managed to jump from the second story and survived without life-threatening injuries.
The fire was reported after a Denver police officer in the area noticed smoke, and neighbors started calling 911.
Police, who arrived first on the scene, tried to save people, but fire officials said the flames and heat were too intense.
Police later revealed they were searching for three suspects wearing masks. The initial image they released showed them wearing white masks and dark hoods, but they later issued a different photo in which the suspects’ masks were black and their hooded sweatshirts or jackets were white. “Further analysis of the gray-scale images has led investigators to believe the mask may have been dark colored,” police wrote in a Crime Stoppers bulletin.
The three teens each were arrested on 10 counts of first-degree murder — five counts apiece under felony murder and extreme-indifference murder statutes — as well as three counts of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault, three counts of first-degree arson, eight counts of fourth-degree arson and one count apiece of first- and second-degree burglary.
Denver District Attorney Beth McCann ultimately will decide how to charge the three suspects, and whether to prosecute them as juveniles or adults.
Anyone with any additional information about the crime is asked to come forward.
“Arrests have been made, but we know it’s not going to bring these beautiful people back,” Dia said. “Our message is let’s embrace one another. Let’s love each other.”
Denver Fire on the scene of a structure fire at 2479 Ivanhoe. Offensive attack in progress… pic.twitter.com/5V4KlSIUwb— Denver Fire Dept. (@Denver_Fire) January 21, 2021
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