3 arrested in connection with Denver house fire that killed CMC graduate and his family
DENVER — Three teenagers have been arrested in connection with a house fire last summer in Denver that killed a former Summit County resident and four of his family members, including two children, police said Wednesday.
The fire, which police believe was intentionally set, killed former Silverthorne resident Djibril Diol, who graduated from Colorado Mountain College in Summit County in 2015 with an associate of science degree in physics. He immigrated to the U.S. from the West African country of Senegal in 2012.
Diol was the first person in his family to go to college, and he worked at City Market in Breckenridge to pay his way through school.
Also killed in the fire were Diol’s wife, Adja; their 22-month-old daughter, Khadija; relative Hassan Diol; and her infant daughter, Hawa Baye.
Denver Police Department Chief Paul Pazen said the suspects — two 16-year-olds and a 15-year-old — were arrested Monday morning in connection with the Aug. 5 fire. The teens, who were not named, face 28 charges, including first-degree murder with extreme indifference, arson, burglary and assault.
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Some in the Senegalese and Muslim communities feared the fire was a hate crime, but Pazen said it was not.
“There are no facts that we are aware of at this time that this was a bias-motivated case,” Pazen said. “If something changes, we can make changes to the charges. But we are confident we have a good understanding of the hows and the whys.”
Pazen declined to provide a motive.
“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, which 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.
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. Three other people managed to escape by jumping from the second floor of the home. They were hospitalized with injuries that were not life threatening.
Pazen called the investigation one of the most complex in his career.
“This was at a level that I have not seen in two decades,” he said.
Papa Dia, a Senegalese community leader in Denver, lauded the case’s development, noting that neighbors and local government officials have stepped up to support the community in recent months.
“We are grateful, but we’re still in pain,” Dia said.
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.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said Wednesday that 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.”
The Summit Daily News and Colorado Sun contributed to this report.
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