Muslim leaders call for hate crime investigation into deadly Denver house fire

(RNS) – Denver police have opened a homicide investigation into the deadly house fire that killed Djibril Diol and his wife and toddler daughter, as well as two other family members.

Investigators stand outside a house where five people were found dead after a fire in suburban Denver, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. Three people escaped the fire by jumping from the home's second floor. The victims were a toddler, an older child and three adults. Authorities suspect the fire was intentionally set. (AP Photo/Thomas Peipert)

(RNS) — Muslim leaders are calling on Denver law enforcement to open a hate crime investigation into the death of a Muslim family of five, including two young children, in a house fire that authorities suspect may have been intentionally set.

Denver police have opened a homicide investigation into the early Wednesday morning fire that killed Djibril Diol and his wife and toddler daughter, as well as Diol’s sister and her child.

“Because people did die in this fire, and we have indications through some evidence that it was arson, it will be investigated as a joint investigation with the fire department as a homicide,” Denver Police Division Chief Joe Montoya said.

Police also indicated that the timing of the 911 call was later than would be expected for such a “heavily-involved fire,” which destroyed the house and severely damaged neighboring homes.

“Law enforcement authorities must take this suspected murder and arson seriously,” Scott Simpson, Muslim Advocates’ public advocacy director, said in a statement. “We call on law enforcement to immediately investigate whether the deadly fire in Green Valley Ranch was motivated by hate. The family of those lost and the Muslim community in Denver deserve justice and peace of mind.”

Diol immigrated from Senegal several years ago to earn his civil engineering degree and had been working since then to support his family in the U.S. and Senegal. His family joined him a few months ago and was staying with another immigrant family in northeast Denver’s Green Valley Ranch neighborhood. Three occupants from the upper story of the home were able to jump to safety, local fire authorities said, and are expected to make full recoveries.

“This loss has left a huge void in our Colorado Muslim community, just days after celebrating the Islamic holiday, Eid Al-Adha,” the Colorado Muslim Leadership Council, which comprises 23 mosques and organizations across the state, said in a statement. “We call upon the Denver Police and Denver Fire Departments to expedite their arson investigation and bring those responsible to justice. The tragic loss of life of this young family will not be tolerated.”

Family friends created an online fundraiser to help cover the cost of sending the family’s bodies back to Senegal to be buried.

The FBI’s annual hate-crime report showed that the number of reported hate crimes in Colorado increased by 16% from 2017 to 2018.

Last year, police arrested a man for allegedly threatening several congregants outside the Downtown Denver Islamic Center with an Airsoft rifle while shouting anti-Muslim statements. Authorities declined to file hate crime charges because investigators said there was no evidence of faith-based targeting.

In 2015, a surveillance camera caught a woman suspected of purposely setting a fire to the Colorado Muslim Society in Arapahoe County.

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