Senegal’s president sent condolences Thursday after five members of a Senegalese family living in the U.S. died earlier this week when a fire swept through their home in Denver, Colorado.
Police and fire officials are investigating the fire, which they suspect might be arson, Joe Montoya, division chief of investigations for Denver police, told the Associated Press. He did not elaborate.
President Macky Sall tweeted: “I extend my heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and wish speedy recovery to the injured. It is a very serious matter that we are following closely.”
Djibril Diol, his wife, daughter, sister and niece were killed in the fire. Diol had graduated in 2018 from Colorado State University with a degree in civil engineering, the school said. Diol was working for the Kiewit construction company.
Three other family members were able to flee the house fire early Wednesday by jumping from the second story, officials said. The three were being treated for injuries that weren’t life-threatening, Denver police said.
Diol and his family were staying with another family at the home until they could get a home of their own, Ousman Ba, a member of the Senegalese community, told The Denver Post. Senegal is a country in West Africa.
Ousmane Ndiaye, a friend of Diol, told the Post that Diol loved soccer and his family. Ndiaye also recounted how last week, on Eid, a holy day for their community, he and Diol went house to house to give greetings.
Family and friends at the scene told the Post the family had emigrated to the U.S. a few years ago.
Members of the Senegalese community in Colorado began showing up at the house Wednesday. The West African community is big and connected, Ndiaye told the Post.
Amadou Ba, a friend of Diol’s, came “to bring my respect for the people who passed away” and to support the family and the community, he told the Associated Press. “He was a very good guy. ... He liked to help everybody, help the community and do a lot of things for everybody.”
On Thursday, Muslim Advocates, a national civil rights organization, released a statement urging Denver officials to open a hate crime investigation into the deaths of the Senegalese American Muslim family members.
“Law enforcement authorities must take this suspected murder and arson seriously. Muslims in Colorado may have been threatened by hate-motivated arson before, and hate crimes in the state are on the rise,” the statement said. “We call on law enforcement to immediately investigate whether the deadly fire in Green Valley Ranch [neighborhood] was motivated by hate. The family of those lost and the Muslim community in Denver deserve justice and peace of mind.”
A GoFundMe page has been established by family and friends to pay for funeral expenses and to return the bodies to Senegal for burial So far, more than $90,000 has been raised.
“Djiby a young man with a promising future in Civil Engineering has left behind a community that he so deeply loved and cared for. We are saddened by the loss of a loving Dad, a nurturing husband, and a caring brother to all of us,” according to family members who set up the online fundraiser.
Senegal Consul General Elhadji Ndao, who flew to Denver on Thursday, said he had been sent by President Sall to speak with the diaspora community and local officials.