Three teens arrested in Denver fire that killed five Senegalese immigrants

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DENVER (Reuters) - Three teenage boys were arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of murder and arson stemming from a house fire last year that killed a family of five Senegalese immigrants, including two small children, police said.

Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen said the three juveniles were being held for investigation on nearly two dozen charges, including five counts of first-degree murder, three counts of attempted first-degree murder and eight counts of first-degree arson.

Besides the five victims who perished in the blaze, three people inside the house escaped the flames by leaping from an upstairs window, police said.

Pazen declined to name the suspects, a 16-year-old boy and two other boys 15 years of age, because they are minors and have not been formally charged. All three were taken into custody in neighboring Jefferson County.

The Aug. 5, 2020, fire deaths shook members of Denver's ethnic Senegalese community who feared the family whose house burned may have been targeted because they were Muslim immigrants from the West African nation.

The case garnered widespread media attention, and police early on released surveillance photos of three masked individuals wearing hooded sweatshirts who investigators believed set the home ablaze.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Pazen declined to offer a possible motive for the alleged arson attack other than to say investigators lacked evidence of a "bias-motivated crime.”

The deadly blaze erupted in the early morning hours in the city’s Green Valley Ranch neighborhood, killing Djibril and Adja Diol and the couple’s 2-year-old daughter, Khadija. The blaze also claimed the lives of the husband's sister, Hassan Diol, and her infant daughter, Hawa Baye.

The police chief was joined at the news conference by Papa Dia, an immigrant from Senegal and a family friend.

“We are grateful but still in pain,” Dia said. “Arrests have been made, but we know it’s not going to bring these beautiful people back.”