DENVER (NewsNation Now) — Denver police have arrested three teenage boys who they believe started a fire that killed a family of five Senegalese immigrants, including two small children, last August.
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 in the city’s Green Valley Ranch neighborhood, 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.
“These are the three individuals we believe are responsible for this horrific crime,” Pazen said.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said, “This is not over until they are sentenced for their crimes and this heinous crime in our city.”
NewsNation affiliate KDVR confirmed that a fourth person – an adult female – was arrested, but the charges remain unknown.
The fire last year shook members of Denver’s Senegalese community, who feared the family whose house burned may have been targeted because they were Muslim immigrants from the West African nation.
The victims were identified as a married couple, 29-year-old Djibril Diol and 23-year-old Adja Diol; their daughter, 1-year-old Khadija Diol; a family member, 25-year-old Hassan Diol; and her 7-month-old daughter, Hawa Baye.
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.”
Photos from the scene show the three suspects wearing dark hoodies and masks.
“This was as complex of an investigation as I’m aware of in my entire career,” Pazen said.
Investigators declined to comment on what led to the arrest, but admitted it was a difficult investigation.
“The tough thing about fire scenes is that the evidence burns up,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge David Booth. “It was painstaking, and hundreds and hundreds of hours of work, to come to where we are today.”
Booth and other investigators are releasing little information, saying they don’t want it to hinder prosecution.
“We are grateful, but we are still in pain,” said Papa Dia, an immigrant from Senegal who’s acted as a spokesperson for the family. “Arrests have been made but it will not bring these beautiful people back.”
Reuters and NewsNation affiliate KDVR contributed to this report.