The horrifying and tragic murder of five members of the Diol family, Senegalese immigrants, in an arson fire last August in Denver’s Green Valley Ranch neighborhood shook not only the African immigrant community but the entire state of Colorado to its core.
Now, with the arrests of three teenagers in connection with arson, the grieving process has entered a new phase. People close to the Diol family say the arrests help bring closure. While there is a sense of relief that this was not a hate crime but rather the apparent accidental targeting of the wrong house by the alleged drug-dealer arsonists, three teenage boys, that development adds another cruel twist to the already awful story.
Two African Leadership Group team members and fellow Senegalese immigrants — Ousman Ba and Amadou Dieng — were close friends with the victims: 29-year-old Djibril (Jibby) Diol, his wife, 23-year-old Adja Diol, their 2-year-old daughter Khadija, as well as Djiby’s sister, 25-year-old Hassan Diol and her 6-month-old daughter, Hawa Baye.
ALG spoke with Ousman and Amadou last week about how they’re coping with the latest developments, the challenges they face in moving on, and how they remember the victims, and especially their good friend Jibby.
ALG: How are you and members of the Diol family feeling about the breaks in the case and the new information that has come out?
Ousman Ba: The arrests are a step toward closure for the family and the community. As a community, we have been living in fear for the past six months. The same goes for the family; it has been hard for them to sleep, especially Jibby’s dad (who returned to Senegal from New York after the murders). I have been speaking to him a couple of times each week to hear how he is feeling. He was worried that this was going to be a cold case that would never be solved. Now that arrests have been made, he is feeling more at ease. He is moving toward closure.
Amadou Dieng: I don’t think anybody has exactly moved on. It (the arson fire) is there, in front of us. For the rest of our lives, we will remember what happened. Every time there is a new development, you go right back in your mind to the first time you heard the news, seeing the burned house. It’s going to take time for people to be able to move on. It is fresh in our minds, especially with the arrests having been made. And now we will be going to court hearings. If there is a moving on, it is far away from where we are right now.
Ousman: I had a community member tell me last week that every time he goes to Green Valley, it reminds him of what happened. He cannot unsee that moment. And speaking for myself, whenever I am in the area, all I can think about is that morning when I heard the news, it brings me back to that day and how fast I was rushing to get there.
One thing that has helped all of us is the way the community has responded, from the very beginning. The way people came by to offer their condolences and respect, and brought bottled water. It made a big difference.
ALG: So much attention has been paid to the case and the arrests. We would like to hear from each of you how you got to know Jibby and a bit about your friendships with him.
Ousman: I first met Jibby in 2015, when we were both studying at Colorado State University, and we were introduced by a mutual friend. I remember my first thought when I met him was ‘man, that guy is tall. Does he play basketball?’ So that is how our friendship started out, playing basketball together. Eventually we became roommates and I really got to know him well. Just this nice, calm individual, full of life and very joyful. He used to cook for us every Friday on his day off from work. I was impressed by how hardworking he was. Working two jobs and studying engineering. So many nights he would stay up late studying. He cared so much about his education. He would tell me about his dreams and goals of providing for his family and bringing his family here (from Senegal). He really wanted to give back, Hewas involved in groups at CSU like Africans United and United Men of Color. His goal was someday to be able to give back to his community in Senegal. He wanted to help provide roads and drinking water wells.
Amadou: I met Jibby before he was at CSU, when he was living in Silverthorne studying at Colorado Mountain College. I had just come to the U.S. and he was the first Senegalese guy I met here. We were next door neighbors in an apartment complex. I was lost in a Target and he gave me a ride home. That was the first time we met. It turned out back in Senegal he lived in the same city I was born in. We liked to listen to the same underground music. When he moved back to Denver after CSU, we both lived in Green Valley, five minutes apart. He was just a humble human being who knew what he wanted and would do anything to help other people.
Ousman: I want everyone to know how awesome this man Jibby was and how much he loved his wife. Every year in Fort Collins he would celebrate her birthday (she was still in Senegal at this point). He would buy a cake and invite everyone together for dinner and would then call her on What’s App and we would all sing happy birthday to her.That’s the type of man he was. He was a great husband, a great father, a great friend, and a community leader.