DENVER — An 18-year-old has pleaded not guilty to dozens of counts in connection with a 2020 house fire in Denver's Green Valley Ranch neighborhood that killed a family of five.
Kevin Bui appeared in court in a green jumpsuit on Thursday morning and pleaded not guilty to the 60 counts against him, which include five counts of first-degree murder after deliberation, five counts of first-degree murder (extreme indifference), five counts of felony murder, multiple counts of attempted murder, first-degree assault with a deadly weapon, first-degree arson, burglary and conspiracy.
A trial was set for Dec. 12, 2022.
On Aug. 5, 2020, officials confirmed a toddler, child, and three adults died in their home along the 5300 block of N. Truckee Street following a house fire. Firefighters arrived at the home just before 3 a.m. and made a valiant effort to try to help the people still inside from the "very significant fire," Capt. Greg Pixley with the Denver Fire Department said that day. He confirmed five people had perished and three others, who had all been on the second flood, were able to evacuate on their own.
Djibril and Adja Diol, their 2-year-old daughter Khadija, Hassan Diol and her infant daughter, Hawa Baye, were all killed in the fire. The family had immigrated to the area from Senegal. Djibril “Jibby” Diol was working as an engineer on the Central 70 project after receiving his civil engineering degree from Colorado State University.
A GoFundMe was set up for the family on Aug. 6 and Macky Sall, the president of the Republic of Senegal, sent his condolences to the family and said his administration was monitoring the investigation. The GoFundMe raised more than $100,000 in the first 48 hours it was live.
The same day as the fire, authorities said they suspected arson and within a few weeks, they had focused their efforts on identifying three masked people seen on surveillance footage in the area at the time.
As the months ticked by, authorities increased the reward for information to $50,000 in November 2020.
Almost half a year after the fire, Bui, a second suspect identified as Gavin Seymour, and a then-14-year-old were arrested.
Bui and Seymour were 16 years old at the time.
Bui and Seymour were formally charged as adults in early February. Seymour faces the same 60 counts as Bui, according to the Denver District Court.
The unnamed 14-year-old was charged with 47 counts including first-degree murder, attempted murder, first- and second-degree assault, arson, burglary and conspiracy. This person's case will continue in juvenile court.
Neighbors in the Green Valley Ranch neighborhood expressed relief after hearing about the arrests. They told Denver7 they had trouble sleeping, wondering why somebody had set fire to the home and if they'd come back and do it again.
“You cannot forget this beautiful family that has been taken from us and in just such a horrible way," Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen said in a one-on-one interview following the arrests. “This case is one of many that I will carry with me throughout my life.”
In a preliminary hearing in November 2021, a judge determined there was enough evidence for Bui's and Seymour's cases to go to trial.
During that hearing, the lead detective said Bui admitted to planning and executing the fire.
The prosecution's first witness was the lead investigator in the case. Hawa Baye’s father left the courtroom in tears as the prosecution detailed the remains of the infant's body, saying she was found underneath her mother’s arm.
Investigators said three boys, including Bui and Seymour, had searched the Truckee Street house on Google multiple times in late July 2020. They also determined that Bui and a minor had purchased the masks seen in the surveillance footage at a Party City close to where they had lived. Cell phone data corroborated the Party City purchases and was used to track the suspects' movements from the Lakewood store to the Green Valley Ranch home hours later, investigators said in an arrest affidavit.
Bui told investigators he was robbed weeks earlier while trying to buy a gun in City Park. When he pinged the stolen iPhone to find where it was located, the Truckee Street address popped up. He claimed that's why boys went there to retaliate.
Police wrote in the affidavit that social media played a big role in helping investigators identify the suspects and determine a motive. Snapchat conversations obtained by police during their investigation showed the suspects were making plans weeks before the fire, the document reads. On July 15, 2020, Bui sent Seymour a message on Snapchat after the phone robbery in which Bui described his frustration and his desire for revenge.
“They [are going to] get theirs like I got mine,” Bui allegedly wrote to Seymour, according to the affidavit. Another message from Bui to Seymour read, “#possiblyruinourfuturesandburnhishousedown.”
No evidence was presented showing the Diol family had anything to do with the alleged robbery Bui described.
Evidence showed the fire was started with gasoline and surveillance video depicted one of teens carrying a jug to the scene, according to the affidavit. It also showed that the suspects entered the home at some point and gasoline was put on the interior walls on the first floor of the home, according to the affidavit.
The bodies of the five victims were found on the first flood, Pixley said.
In late January 2022, a judge denied attorneys’ requests to move the Bui and Seymour cases to juvenile court. Judge Martin Egelhoff stated that “the interest of the defendant and the community would not be better served” if the cases were to be moved to juvenile court.
In addition, a woman named Tanya Bui was arrested on Jan. 29, 2021 in connection with the fire. She faced federal charges of possession with intent to distribute less than 50 kilograms of marijuana and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, according to federal court documents. According to an arrest affidavit, she was paying for a cell phone that belonged to a suspect in the arson investigation who had the initials KB. She was sentenced on July 15, 2022 to more than 10 years in prison after she pleaded guilty to federal firearm and drug distribution counts in February.
In early July 2022, Bui faced new charges tied to allegedly possessing and distributing pills with suspected fentanyl in jail. A probable cause statement for his arrest in this case — he was arrested on arrested on June 4 at the Denver Detention Center — said that Denver Sheriff Department deputies were investigating an overdose around 6 p.m. on June 4 inside the jail.
The home on N. Truckee Street was torn down in February 2021.