DENVER — A group of Denver teenagers accused of setting a house fire that killed five Senegalese immigrants, including two children, last year did so because one boy believed someone inside had stolen his cellphone.
Testimony in the preliminary hearing for Kevin Bui and Gavin Seymour indicated that Bui had the wrong home, according to Reuters. Bui and Seymour were 16 at the time of the crime and are being tried as adults.
A third boy was 15 at the time and is being tried as a juvenile, the news service reported.
Authorities said the deadly fire broke out around 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 5, 2020, 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.
Djibril Diol, 29, and Adja Diol, 23, were killed, 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.
The family’s bodies were found near their front door, indicating they died trying to escape the flames and smoke. One of Hassan Diol’s arms was still around her baby when they were found, according to The Associated Press.
At least two other family members survived by leaping from second-story windows, authorities said.
Each teen faces a total of 28 felony charges, including 10 first-degree murder charges. They also face attempted first-degree murder charges, as well as multiple counts of first-degree assault, burglary and arson.
Reuters and the AP reported that Denver police Detective Neil Baker testified Friday that Bui confessed to the crime following his arrest.
“He admitted to setting that house on fire,” Baker said.
The AP reported that Baker testified Bui told detectives he had been robbed of his cellphone, his money and his shoes in July 2020 while trying to buy a gun. He used an app to track the phone.
Bui said he tracked the device to the Diol home, but admitted he did no research on who lived there, Baker testified. The teen realized after watching news about the fatal fire that none of the home’s residents had robbed him.
Seymour told detectives they had no plan in place when they went to the house, the AP reported. Though he said they considered vandalizing the property, footage from nearby home security cameras showed them with a gas can.
They did not carry baseball bats, rocks or other weapons to use for vandalism, Denver prosecutor Courtney Johnston told the court.
“What they did was create a death trap that no one was intended to survive,” Johnston said, according to the AP.
The killings stunned Denver’s Senegalese community, of which the Diols were prominent members. Papa Dia, founder of the African Leadership Group in Denver, said in August that the Denver metro area has about 2,000 Senegalese nationals living there.
Members of the community had their hearts “shattered” by the killings, Dia said. Many feared that the Diols were targeted because of their nationality or their Muslim faith.
The AP reported that neither Bui nor Seymour has entered a plea to the charges. Their attorneys are seeking to have the case transferred to juvenile court.
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