The Denver Police Department say a fire incident that killed a family of five Senegalese immigrants in their two-storey home on August 5 was deliberately started by a suspect who later fled the scene, CNN reports.
The victims include Djibril Diol, his wife Adja, their 3-year-old daughter, Kadidia; Djibril’s sister Hassan, and her baby daughter, Hawa Beye. Three other people who were upstairs when the fire started managed to escape. An officer who tried rescuing the trapped victims in the lower part of the house was pushed back as a result of the intense heat from the fire.
Djibril was described as a young man who “cared for his family” and had a “promising future in Civil Engineering.” A neighbor also told KDVR the family was very “quiet” and “honest” and “never had any problems” with anyone.
A homicide investigation has been subsequently launched.
“We have to go into it very open-minded and look at every possible angle. And if at some point we determine it was hate-motivated or bias-motivated, then we will definitely share that with the community,” Joe Montoya, division chief for investigations at the Denver Police Department said, CNN reports.
Responding to what made authorities conclude was an arson incident, Montoya said: “I cannot get into the details right now. We are relying on the expertise of the Denver Fire arson investigators, the ATF and some of the evidence collected at the scene.”
Authorities have offered a $14,000 reward for information on the fatal incident. The Colorado chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations has also called on investigators to look into the possibility of a bias motive.
“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,” CNN quoted the acting board chair for CAIR-Colorado, Krista Cole.
The incident, which has shaken the Senegalese-Mauritania community in Denver, has left family and friends calling for justice for the victims.
“We are heartbroken. We cannot believe that an entire family would be just gone in a matter of minutes,” Papa Dia, the founder of the African Leadership Group in Aurora, told KMGH. “Right now, we have a lot of questions — more than we have answers. So we look forward to having clarification on what transpired, but one thing I can tell you is we need the entire support. And the time we are facing as a community at large, we need to come together, and as immigrants and as Muslims, any support, we welcome it.”
Meanwhile, Denver Mayor, Michael Hancock, commiserated with the family of the victims and assured them as well as neighbors they will “move swiftly to determine what caused this tragedy.”
A GoFundMe has also been set up to help raise funds to assist the victims’ family to send their bodies back home for burial.