DENVER—One of three teens accused of setting a house fire that killed five recent immigrants from Senegal last year admitted to starting the fire and targeting the house because he believed the people who stole his cell phone in a recent robbery lived there, a detective said Friday.
Detective Neil Baker’s testimony came during a hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence for the two teens charged as adults in the case, Kevin Bui and Gavin Seymour, to stand trial. The third teen is charged in juvenile court.
Bui and Seymour are charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, arson, and burglary in the Aug. 5, 2020, fire that killed Djibril and Adja Diol, their 22-month-old daughter Khadija, as well as Djibril Diol’s sister Hassan Diol and her infant daughter Hawa Baye. Their bodies were found on the first floor of the home near the front door, Baker said. One of Hassan Diol’s arms was found wrapped around her baby, he said. Two other residents escaped by jumping out of a second-story window, breaking some bones, he said.
Bui and the others were arrested in January—when Bui and Seymour were 16 years old and the third boy was 15—following a lengthy investigation focused on cell phone usage, Google searches for the home’s address and surveillance cameras from nearby homes.
Once in custody, Bui said he had been robbed in late July 2020, with his phone, money, and shoes taken, while trying to buy a gun, Baker said. Using an app to track his phone, Bui said he learned it was at the home and believed the people who robbed him lived there though he did not research the home’s residents, he said.
Bui admitted to setting the fire, only to realize the next day through news coverage that the victims were not the ones who robbed him, said Baker, the lead investigator in the case.
In his interview with investigators, Bui also said he never intended for anyone to die, another investigator, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives agent Mark Sonnendecker, later said when questioned by one of Bui’s lawyers.
Judge Martin Egelhoff found enough evidence for the case to proceed. While lawyers for Bui and Seymour emphasized that the teens never talked about a specific plan to set a fire or expressed a desire to hurt anyone in any of possibly thousands of messages obtained by investigators, Egelhoff noted that the fire was allegedly set in the middle of the night when people would likely be at home and sleeping with evidence of an accelerant to quickly spread it.
Seymour told investigators they went to the home without a plan, possibly to vandalize it but home surveillance video footage did not show the teens holding rocks or baseball bats that could be used to damage the home, just a gasoline can, Chief Deputy District Attorney Courtney Johnston said.
“What they did was create a death trap that no one was intended to survive,” she said.
Neither Bui nor Seymour have been asked to enter pleas to the charges yet. They are both seeking to have their cases moved to juvenile court where they would face less serious penalties if convicted.
By Colleen Slevin