Denver police release images of masked suspects in fire that killed 5 Senegalese immigrants

DENVER — Denver police officials on Tuesday released a chilling image of three masked people suspected of setting a fire that killed five Senegalese immigrants, including two young children.

Djibril Diol, 29, and Adja Diol, 23, were killed Aug. 5 alongside their 3-year-old daughter, Khadija. Djibril Diol’s sister, Hassan Diol, 25, and her infant daughter, Hawa Baye, also died in the fire, according to police.

The suspects were dressed in full white face masks and dark hoodies. They fled the area in a dark-colored, four-door sedan.

Djibril and Hassan Diol’s brother, Moussa Diol, spoke of his loss Aug. 7 at a news conference with authorities.

“That was my family. My everything,” Moussa Diol said as he struggled to maintain his composure. “It’s hard to really talk right now because I’m still heartbroken and so emotional right now, but it hurts. It hurts a lot just to wake up and lose your family like that.

“Nobody doesn’t deserve this. Nobody. No family deserves this. I’m going to miss them a lot. A lot.”

The killings have stunned Denver’s Senegalese community, of which the Diols were prominent members. Papa Dia, founder of the African Leadership Group in Denver, said the Denver metro area has about 2,000 Senegalese nationals living there.

Members of the community have had their hearts “shattered” by the killings, Dia said.

“We consider ourselves part of this society, part of this great nation we call home,” he said. “This is a time we don’t want to feel alone. This is a time we want the U.S. born citizens to embrace us.”

Dia said the only thing that would bring peace to the immigrant community would be for the people responsible for the horrific crime to be identified and brought to justice.

“The community is living in fear right now because we don’t know,” Dia said, according to Denverite. “We don’t know if we’re being targeted, we don’t know, and that makes it even more scary.”

Some members of the Muslim community have pleaded for the investigation to move forward as a hate crime but city officials said earlier this month that it was too soon to determine the motive behind the fatal fire.

“You’d better best believe that this is something that none of us in this city or this state or in this nation should stand for no matter what happened,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said a day after the fire, according to CBS Denver.

Murphy Robinson, the city’s executive director of public safety, on Aug. 7 offered his condolences on behalf of the city.

“I can’t imagine the pain you’re feeling from such a tragic and violent loss,” Robinson said. “But I want you to know that the Denver family is with you. I want you to know that we’re going to work hard to find out who committed this violent act.

“But we need your help.”

Metro Denver Crime Stoppers and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are offering a $14,000 reward for information in the case.

Authorities said the deadly fire broke out around 2:30 a.m. Aug. 5 at the family’s home at 5312 North Truckee St. in the Green Valley Ranch neighborhood. Denver fire officials said the fire was “heavily involved” when firefighters arrived.

Video recorded by multiple witnesses shows flames erupting from the home.

“I really hope they got outside,” a neighbor is heard saying in one video.

Neighbor Maria Mendoza told The Associated Press she awoke to noise and someone screaming, “Get the baby out! Get the baby out!” She said she ran to a window and saw flames and smoke pouring out of the home.

“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.

The first police officers to arrive at the scene attempted to get through the flames to rescue those still inside but were pushed back by the heat.

Three adults inside the house at the time of the fire were able to jump from a second-floor window and escape, police officials said. The rest of the family perished.

Chief Joe Montoya, division chief of investigations for the Denver Police Department, said detectives determined early in the investigation that the fire was intentionally set. Police and fire officials called in the ATF to assist in the probe.

Montoya pleaded for information in the case as he stood next to a photo of Djibril and Adja Diol and their daughter.

“I want people to see the picture of this family and understand this is a family that was thriving. They were heading in the right direction,” Montoya. “(Diol) was doing all the things he needed to do to provide his family with an amazing life in America. That was all cut short on that day.”

Watch the Aug. 7 news conference about the Diol killings below.

He asked that members of the public with information on the killings “look into (their) hearts and do the right thing, do it for the right reasons.”

“We need to find these individuals, or individual, and we have to be able to hold them accountable for what they did on that day,” Montoya said. “We owe this to that family. We owe this to the Senegalese community, and we owe it to the country of Senegal.”

Senegalese President Macky Sall offered his condolences to the Diol family the day after the blaze.

“I was moved to learn of the deaths of five of our compatriots in a massive fire in Denver,” Sall tweeted in French, the West African country’s official language. “I extend my heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and wish a speedy recovery to the injured. It is a very serious matter that we are following closely.”

The language barrier has made the city’s response to the fire more challenging. At the Aug. 7 news conference, Montoya had a police officer fluent in French read the bulletin from Crime Stoppers for those who might have information but do not speak English.

Senegal Consul General Elhadji Ndao flew to Denver following the fire at Sall’s request. He attended the news conference with local officials and visited the crime scene to meet with Diol family members and members of the community.

“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, according to the AP.

Montoya thanked the Senegalese community, who he said turned out “en masse” at the scene the morning of the fire.

“They were an integral part of helping the immediate family members through that process because it was very difficult,” Montoya said. “They’ve been by their sides ever since.”

Djibril Diol, nicknamed Djiby by his family, came to the U.S. from Senegal more than 10 years ago, according to the Islamic Center of Fort Collins. He graduated in December 2018 with a degree in civil engineering from Colorado State University.

According to a profile by CSU, Diol was the first in his family to graduate from college. His goal, he told the university, was to someday build roads and infrastructure in rural Senegal.

First, however, he wanted to learn more from the industry in the U.S. and possibly earn a graduate degree.

“You can learn from the bigger picture here in the U.S. and apply it to the smaller picture back home,” Diol said. “You learn things you didn’t think about doing before, things you can apply to the places you want to build tomorrow.”

At the time of his death, Diol worked for Kiewit Construction. Co-workers of his joined the family as the Muslim community held a day of mourning for Diol and his family the day after the fire. CBS Denver reported that more than 100 people showed up for the memorial outside the burned-out shell of the family’s home.

“For them to get the chance to pay their respects with the family and the community is just really important,” Jason Proskovec, a project manager for Kiewit, told the news station. “It goes to show what being a good person and working really hard will do to pull people together.”

Proskovec said Diol had a positive attitude, “a smile you’d never forget” and a strong work ethic.

say ma cha Allah plzzzzzz #life #babygirl #sondji's

Posted by Mami Sondji Diol on Monday, 17 February 2020

The Islamic Center wrote that Diol was using his job to help his family, both in the U.S. and back home.

“He was a very respectful, helpful, bright, religious man, and an energetic person who was a help to his family that lived in the U.S. and to the majority that still reside in Senegal,” a post on the center’s Facebook page reads. “He was a tall man with an even bigger heart.

“We ask Allah to forgive the misdeeds, accept the good deeds, and to make strong the faith and patience of the family and friends who are now mourning his loss.”

Hancock, the mayor, joined Diol’s community at the Aug. 6 day of mourning, the CBS affiliate reported. The mayor called the fire a tremendous tragedy.

“We want to stand arm and arm with them,” Hancock said, according to the news station. “Make sure the crime is solved, but also to remind them that in Denver, everyone is welcome.”

Hancock was one of many people who shared the link to a GoFundMe page set up to help the family with funeral costs and other expenses had raised close to $200,000 as of Thursday morning. Love for the Diol family poured in on the page from strangers and friends alike.

“I am so sorry for your loss, and I am so sorry that this kind of hate exists in the world,” a woman wrote. “I hope you find some sort of peace, and I carry space for you and your loved ones in my heart.”

“I am so sorry for the loss to this beautiful family,” a Denver resident wrote. “I live in (Green Valley Ranch) and though we have not met, you are my neighbor.”

“Djibril was such a gentle and kind soul; I still cannot believe he is gone along with his precious family and relatives,” a woman who knew Diol wrote. “I will greatly miss him, and I hope him and his family experience peace in the afterlife.”

“Djiby was, and I have learned that his sister and wife were as well, (one) of the kindest, brightest, most loving people who have been given the miracle of life,” a man wrote. “I will miss them dearly.”

People who worked with Diol wrote that he was a hardworking man with a contagious attitude.

In a June post on his own Facebook page, Diol demonstrated his positivity with words of encouragement for those he cared about.

“Look here, life is full of ups and downs, my friend. However, never let life’s obstacles or anything someone says or does bring you down,” Diol wrote. “Keep your head up and keep pushing forward, brothers and sisters. Desire and determination will overcome any obstacles.

“Love you all.”

Anyone with information about the Diol family’s killings is asked to call Metro Denver Crime Stoppers at 720-913-7867 (STOP).

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