Three juvenile males have been arrested in connection with a northeast Denver house fire last year that killed five members of a Senegalese family, police announced Wednesday.
The arrests were announced at a news conference with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver Police Department Chief Paul Pazen. The suspects — two who are 16 years old and one who is 15 — were arrested Wednesday morning in Jefferson County at their homes. The boys are not related, though they know each other. Their names were not released.
The teens face 28 charges, including first-degree murder with extreme indifference, arson, burglary and assault.
“This was one of the most heinous crimes I’ve ever seen or witnessed in our city, as mayor or otherwise,” Hancock said of the Aug. 5 fire.
He added: “The Diol family can breathe a little easier tonight.”
Little information was provided on the suspects. Pazen said multiple times that he was concerned releasing details would compromise a successful prosecution of the case, which has captivated the public since Aug. 5.
Djibril and Adja Diol, along with their 22-month-old daughter Khadija died in the fire at their home in Green Valley Ranch. Hassan Diol and her infant daughter, Hawa Baye, relatives of the Diols, also were killed.
Some the Senegalese and Muslim communities feared that 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.
The arrests came as a result of multiple agencies collaborating, including the homicide team and major crimes division at the Denver Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Secret Service, and the arson division at the Denver Fire Department.
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 the recent months.
“We are grateful, but we’re still in pain,” Dia said.
The deaths drew the attention of Senegalese officials, including Consul General Elhadji Ndao, who flew to Denver in the wake of the fire at the request of his country’s leaders and said he was looking forward to the investigation.
After the fire, Senegal President Macky Sall tweeted in French that he was monitoring the investigation closely, and he wished the surviving victims a speedy recovery.
“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,” Ndao said in August as he stood in front of the charred home.
Hancock said he shared news of the arrests with Ndao on Wednesday. Hancock said Ndao responded with his gratitude and confidence in the investigation.
Denver police were offering a $50,000 reward for information on those responsible for the fire. In the days after the blaze, authorities released surveillance images of three masked figures in the area of the Diols’ home the night of the fire. On Wednesday, Pazen declined to say whether investigators believe the three people in the surveillance photos were the teens who were arrested.
Police encourage anyone with more information to come forward.
Staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report. The Associated Press contributed to this report.