Police in Denver are searching for three masked people suspected of starting a house fire that killed five members of a family, including two infants, earlier in August.
Cops on Tuesday released chilling new surveillance footage images of the suspects and their dark-colored sedan fleeing the scene, as they issued a $14,000 reward for information leading to their arrest.
Djibril and Adja Diol, along with their 22-month-old daughter Khadija, were killed in the fire on August 5, as well as relative Hassan Diol and her infant daughter Hawa Baye. The family had immigrated to the U.S. from Senegal.
Three other people managed to escape the blaze by jumping from the second floor of the home.
Investigators said the suspects, wearing full face masks and dark hoodies, 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.
Police, fire officials and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating because there are indications that it was arson, Joe Montoya, division chief of investigations for Denver police, said shortly after the fire.
He would not elaborate on the evidence because he said he did not want to compromise the investigation.
‘Because people did die in this fire, and we have indications through some evidence that it was arson, it will be investigated as a joint investigation with the fire department as a homicide,’ he said.
Some Muslim advocacy groups have called on police to consider the possibility of a hate crime because of the victims’ faith.
‘We encourage law enforcement to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into this suspected arson,’ said Krista Cole, acting board chairwoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Colorado chapter.
‘Because the family members who perished in this tragedy are members of minority and immigrant communities, it would only be prudent to investigate the possibility of a bias motive,’ she added.
‘This loss has left a huge void in our Colorado Muslim community, just days after celebrating the Islamic holiday Eid al-Adha,’ the council also told the New York Times.
‘We call upon the Denver police and the Denver Fire Department to expedite their arson investigation and bring those responsible to justice. The tragic loss of life of this young family will not be tolerated.’
Montoya, however, has said detectives are looking at all possible angles to avoid getting ‘tunnel vision.’
‘I want the family, the local community of Senegal and the country of Senegal to know you have our full commitment and devotion to this case,’ he said in a press conference on August 7.
‘We have every hope that we are going to find the individual or individuals responsible for this and bring them to justice.’
After the fire, Senegal President Macky Sall said he was monitoring the investigation closely, and he wished the surviving victims a speedy recovery.
Senegal Consul General Elhadji Ndao flew to Denver at the request of his country´s leaders and said he is looking forward to the investigation.
‘We trust and have confidence in the legal system in this country and this city, and we have confidence that the investigation will take its course and what is proper in terms of diligence will be done,’ he said, standing in front of the remnants of the charred home.
Ndao, who was joined by members of the Senegalese community who gathered to mourn the victims, added, ‘It´s unfortunate that a whole family was gone in this tragic event.’
Denver Fire Department Capt. Greg Pixley said bodies of Diol and his family were discovered on the first floor of the home after firefighters extinguished the fire at Truckee St. in the Green Valley Ranch neighborhood
The blaze was first reported by a police officer at 2:40 a.m.
The fire was so hot that it also damaged nearby homes, with Pixley saying that had firefighters not been able to get the blaze under control, the fire would have likely spread to neighboring homes.
‘The efforts of the fire department were to reduce that fire keep it to that one location, not have any more individuals injured or any larger fire,’ he said.
‘He was a good person, a good worker and a good Muslim,’ Diol’s brother, Abou Djibril, said to the Denver Post.
Ba said that Diol and his family had immigrated from Senegal in recent years and were staying at the house with another family until they could find their own home.
Another friend – Ibrahim Ndiaye – said that Diol was an engineer with Kiewit, while his wife and sister both worked at Amazon. He also said that Diol loved soccer, his family, and had celebrated Eid on Friday – a holy day for their community.
In a message on a GoFundMe page set up to raise funds for the funeral costs, organizer Amadou Dieng wrote: ‘Djiby a cared for his family, his brothers and parents. Djiby a young man with a promising future in Civil Engineering has left behind a community that he so deeply loved and cared for.
‘We are saddened by the loss of a loving Dad, a nurturing husband, and a caring brother to all of us.’
Neighbor Maria Mendoza said she was awakened by noise and someone screaming, ‘Get the baby out! Get the baby out!’ at 2:40 a.m. She ran to a window and saw flames and plumes of smoke rising from the home just down the street.
‘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. Firefighters arrived moments later.
‘It all happened so fast, less than 10 minutes. These are big houses but they’re all made of wood,’ Mendoza said, holding back tears. ‘May God and the community help this family.’
Mendoza said she didn’t know the family but would wave or say ‘Hi’ whenever she saw the children. She said the neighborhood was built about two years ago.