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Senegalese Family Seeks Justice After Deadly Denver House Fire

IN a tragic case of mistaken revenge, a house fire in Denver, Colorado in the US, claimed the lives of Hassan Diol, her infant daughter Hawa, and three other family members in 2020. The fire, set in the middle of the night by a group of teenagers, also killed Diol’s brother Djibril Diol, his wife Adja Diol, and their 22-month-old daughter. The blaze left their bodies near the front door as they tried to escape.

Kevin Bui, one of the suspects, faces a sentencing hearing on Tuesday and could be imprisoned for up to 60 years after pleading guilty to reduced charges in a plea deal. Amadou Beye, Hassan Diol’s husband, who was granted an emergency visa after the fire, plans to speak at the hearing. Beye, who now works as a mover and avoids being alone in the evenings to cope with his loss, described Bui as a ‘terrorist’ for the devastation he caused.

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Djibril Diol, an engineer, had been working on a major rebuilding project of Interstate 70 in Denver and dreamed of returning to Senegal to build roads. His ambitions were cut short by the tragic fire, which also left members of another family who lived in the same home to escape with their lives.

Prosecutors have portrayed Bui as the ringleader of the group responsible for the fire. A son of Vietnamese immigrants, Bui had been involved in delivering drugs for his sister, Tanya Bui, who is currently serving a nearly 11-year federal prison sentence. Bui told investigators he set the fire after being robbed of his phone, money, and shoes while attempting to buy a gun. Using an app to track his phone, he mistakenly believed the people who robbed him lived in the house he targeted.

Despite realising through news coverage the next day that he had targeted the wrong people, Bui admitted to setting the fire. He pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder in May, leading to the dismissal of 60 other charges, including first-degree murder, attempted murder, arson, and burglary. Prosecutors recommended a 60-year prison sentence for Bui.

If Judge Karen L. Brody rejects the proposed deal, a new agreement must be negotiated, or the case will go to trial. Relatives of the victims support the deal, seeing it as the best way to resolve the criminal case nearly four years after the fire. Beye, a Muslim, expressed hope that God would provide ultimate justice but acknowledged the need to move forward.

In previous rulings, Dillon Siebert, 14 at the time of the fire, was sentenced to three years in juvenile detention and seven years in a state prison programme for young inmates. Gavin Seymour, 19, received a 40-year prison sentence in March after pleading guilty to second-degree murder.

The investigation into the fire was prolonged, initially lacking leads despite surveillance footage showing three suspects in masks and hoodies. Amid fears of a hate crime, some Senegalese immigrants installed security cameras at their homes. Police employed a controversial strategy, asking Google to reveal IP addresses that searched for the home’s address within 15 days of the fire. This led to identifying Bui, Seymour, and Siebert as suspects. The Colorado Supreme Court later upheld the search, emphasising its ruling was specific to the facts of this case and not a broad endorsement of such search warrants.

The tragic incident underscores the complex interplay of justice, grief, and the long road to closure for those left behind.

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