DENVER – The president of Senegal offered his condolences Thursday to the family of the five people killed in a house fire early Wednesday morning in Green Valley Ranch, who came from his home country to Colorado.
Macky Sall, the president of the Republic of Senegal, said in a tweet that he wished to “extend my heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and wish a speedy recovery to the injured.”
J’ai appris avec émotion le décès de 5 de nos compatriotes dans un violent incendie à Denver, aux États-Unis.— Macky Sall (@Macky_Sall) August 6, 2020
J’adresse mes condoléances attristées aux familles des victimes et souhaite prompt rétablissement aux blessés.
C’est une affaire très grave que nous suivons de près.
Five members of a family originally from Senegal were killed in the fire, according to friends and family, while three others escaped the blaze by jumping out of the home’s second story, police and fire officials said Wednesday.
Denver police and fire department spokespersons said they were investigating the fire as arson, though they have not released more details as to why.
Sall said in his tweet that he and his administration were monitoring the investigation.
“It is a very serious matter that we are following closely,” he said.
A toddler, child and three adults died in the fire, which happened around 2:30 a.m. in the 5300 block of N. Truckee Street, southeast of Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, though they have not been formally identified by the Denver Office of the Medical Examiner as of 2 p.m. Thursday.
Friends, family and neighbors of the victims said the family had immigrated from Senegal. Papa Dia, the founder of the African Leadership Group based out of Aurora, said a GoFundMe for the family had been set up.
As of Friday morning, the GoFundMe had raised more than $112,000 for the family. Dozens of members of the West African community gathered at the home Wednesday to offer their condolences.
Abou Djibril said he was the brother of the man who died, and described him as a good person.
“A good worker and like a good Muslim. ... He respects all the people and he helped all the people,” Djibril said.
Neighbor Morice Sims Herrick said he hopes the fire was not intentional.
"I hope that's not the world that we live in, and things that people have to worry about — different races, religion and immigration — I hope we're beyond that," he said. "I really, really hope and pray that's not the reason that happened. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and everyone supporting them."
Senegal Consul General Elhadji Ndao flew in to Denver Thursday and was greeted at the airport by much of the community. He said in a brief news conference Thursday afternoon that he had been asked by the president and government to come to Denver to speak with the community and officials and offer his respects to the family and community.
He said the family was grateful for the support for the community and from their native country.
“I’ve gained that they have good faith in their religion. They have good faith in their community. They have good faith in the legal system. I can say that they are also very grateful for the support they are getting from their community, from their families, and are looking forward to the next few days and what it would reveal,” Ndao said.
“We are looking forward to the investigation taking its course and for the usual security that they were always afforded to continue,” Ndao added. “It’s unfortunate that a whole family was gone in this tragic event.”
Dia said that the consul general’s presence “means everything” to the community members. He said that the family and community were still waiting for more details on the outcome of the investigation into the fire, but like Ndao, said they had full faith in the investigators.
The two and others were set to meet with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock at 3 p.m., Ndao said.
“It is unfortunate, but it is part of the job. Like Mr. Dia has said, this is instructions from the higher authorities of Senegal who instructed me to come here and support the family, and make sure contacts are established with relevant authorities to ensure the investigation is followed,” Ndao said. “Again, this is normal activity in terms of coming here and supporting the community. And other officials, in my role, in other countries, would do the same.”
Dia said the GoFundMe money would not only be going toward the funerals for the victims, but also toward helping the survivors recuperate and start their lives again.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock spoke briefly after a meeting with the Senegal consul general and the family members of the five people who were killed early Wednesday. He urged people to donate to the GoFundMe to help pay for expenses to bring the family’s bodies back to Senegal, the funeral and more.
Hancock said that the city was ready to “stand arm-in-arm” with the family and community to help solve the crime, if there was one indeed.
Ndao said he was reassured in his confidence in law enforcement and the city to properly handle the investigation after meeting with Hancock.
“We appreciate that you came to express these kind words,” Ndao said. “On behalf of the government of Senegal, we would like to express our gratitude.”
Both Hancock and Ndao said it was too early to consider pushing for a hate crime charge in the case, as the investigation into whether arson was committed is still underway. Washington D.C.-based Muslim Advocates on Thursday morning called on police to investigate whether the fire was “motivated by hate.”
Hancock said while he was struck by how quickly police and fire investigators turned the fire into an arson investigation but said it was still “way too early” to determine if arson caused the fire.
He said he was not at all surprised by the coming together seen in the West African community in Colorado, saying the community is made up of beautiful people who are close-knit, hospitable and peaceful. He said that the family members of the victims told him about how the man who was killed was the “root and foundation of the family” and had come to Colorado to pursue an engineering degree and career to provide for his family.
“This is something none of us should stand for no matter what happened,” Hancock said.
Editor's Note: President Sall's tweet has been translated to English from the native French.