Six months following a devastating fire that killed five members of a Senegalese family in Denver, and days after the arrest of three juveniles for the horrific crime, a question is lingering in the community. Why?
Djibril and Adja Diol and their two year old toddler, Khadija, as well as Mr. Diol’s sister, Hassan and her baby, Hawa Baye, perished in the August 5th 2020 blaze. Their bodies were found after firefighters arrived at 2:40 a.m. to fight the fire on Truckee Street in east Denver. Another family that rented to the Diol’s jumped to safety from the second story. Authorities believe the fire was intentionally set.
Today the burnt-out house sits in the newish development full of cul de sacs and parks in Green Valley Ranch. Stuffed animals and dead bouquets of flowers on a chain link fence are all that remain of one immigrant family’s American dream.
“It was just a happy family that was getting everything together and starting a happy life.”
Amadou Dieng first met Djibril Diol at a Target store in Summit County when he moved to Colorado in 2015. Many of the state’s 2000 Senegalese immigrants, like Djibril, move to mountain communities to work the plentiful jobs in hospitality and retail. After a time they were lured to Denver’s Green Valley Ranch community near Denver International Airport by the promise of less expensive housing and other opportunities.
“It still doesn’t make sense,” says Dieng, who shudders when he thinks about that night. “I was just with Djibi the Friday before. We were celebrating Eid. We were never able to see him again.”
Dieng said Djibril had graduated from CSU in December 2018 with a degree in civil engineering. He had a job and was finally able to bring his wife and small daughter from Senegal to Denver. She and the baby had arrived, in April, a few months before the fire.
“This was one of the most heinous crimes I’ve ever witnessed in the city,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said. “It hit me to the core.”
On Wednesday, January 27 authorities arrested three juveniles for the crime. Two 16 year olds and a 15 year old face 28 charges, some with extreme indifference, including first degree murder, assault, burglary and arson.
Surveillance video from the night of the fire caught three young men wearing hoodies and masks and driving a dark clolored four door sedan.
While many questions remain, one question was answered during the press conference. Authorities did not believe the crime was bias motivated.
“We are grateful but we are still in pain,” said Papa Dia, a spokesperson for the family.
Papa Dia, who founded the African Leadership Group, was among those who demanded it be investigated as a bias crime. The Senegalese government, that followed the case closely, wanted a bias crime to be looked into as well.
“We know it’s not going to bring these beautiful people back,” said Dia. Let’s not let this horrific crime define who we are as a nation and who we can be as a state.”
Aliou Ba, who immigrated from Senegal to Denver in 2002, lives with three generations of his family on the next street over. The Diol family were friends who visited regularly. On the night of the fire he saw the house burning from his backyard.
“I’m just wondering the reason behind it.”
Ba says he is relieved there has been an arrest but he wishes this could have been prevented. Ba’s sister, Ami, said the police came after the arrests by to tell them not to worry anymore.
“We weren’t feeling safe after that. Now we feel safe.”
Inside the house, Ami’s children were among five toddlers sitting on the floor with grandma, who was dressed in traditional clothing, communally eating spaghetti with their hands as they do back home.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Ami. “Why would you murder children. They’re just babies.”
The Denver district attorney expects to receive the case early this week. All three juveniles could be tried as adults.
If it’s not a bias crime it’s still a crime.” It’s hard for people in the community to feel safe.”says Amadou Dieng. He worries the journey to justice will bring even more pain.
“We have a long way to go, Dieng said. “It’s good to know it wasn’t hate, but it would be better to know why it happened.” “Why did it happen to Djibi and his family and why was it committed by such young men. I cannot picture someone that young to be that evil. It certainly is confusing.”