Teen charged in deadly Green Valley Ranch arson told investigators he set fire because of stolen phone, detective says

One of the teens charged with setting a Denver house on fire and killing five people inside told investigators he did so because he believed a person who stole his phone lived there, court testimony revealed Friday.

The teen, Kevin Bui, traced the stolen iPhone to an address in the Green Valley Ranch neighborhood, a Denver police detective testified during a court hearing. The day after the fire, however, Bui realized the people killed were not the same people who he believed stole his phone.

Bui told police he set the Aug. 5, 2020, blaze after his arrest in January, the detective testified.

“He admitted to setting that house on fire,” Denver police Detective Neil Baker said Friday. “He admitted to researching the address, planning to go out there that day, buying the masks and getting gasoline on the way to the residence.”

Bui and one of his co-defendants, Gavin Seymour, appeared Friday in Denver District Court for their preliminary hearings, at which a judge will decide whether there’s enough evidence for the case to proceed.

The two defendants, who were both 16 at the time of the crime, each face 60 charges, including murder, in connection with the fire at  5312 Truckee St. that killed five members of a Senegalese family: 29-year-old Djibril Diol, 23-year-old Adja Diol, their 2-year-old daughter Khadija, 25-year-old Hassan Diol and her 6-month-old daughter, Hawa Baye.

A third teen faces criminal charges as well but his case is proceeding in juvenile court because he was 15 years old at the time of the crime.

The detective’s testimony Friday is the first time investigators have publicly described how they identified the suspects in the case and what motivated the suspects to allegedly set fire to the home.

Investigators, on the day of the fire, obtained surveillance video showing three people in hooded sweatshirts and full-face masks near the home at the time of the fire. They were also able to find surveillance images of a car they suspected was connected to the fire.

But for weeks investigators remained stumped on how to identify the masked individuals. They then used a series of search warrants served on cellphone and tech companies to identify the three teens.

One warrant to Google asked for any searches for the destroyed house’s address prior to the fire. Other search warrants looked for data from any devices in the area of the house at the time of the fire that were not normally there.

Baker also tracked down the purchase of the three masks worn by the suspects. He called Party City asking for purchase data for the type of masks investigators believed were worn by the suspects. That data pointed to a shop in the Belmar area and Baker found video surveillance outside of the shop that showed a car park just before the time of the purchase and drive away just after. The car in the video matched the car seen in the burned house’s vicinity the night of the fire.

Baker then visited the home of Bui, who had been identified as a suspect through the data searches, and saw a car matching the same description in the driveway.

After his Jan. 27 arrest, Bui told investigators that he planned and executed the arson after he was robbed of his phone in City Park while trying to buy a gun, Baker said. Bui then tracked his phone using the “Find my iPhone” function and believed it was in the Truckee Street house.

Bui did not do any further research about who lived in the house and named Seymour as his accomplice, Baker said. The teens looked at news stories the next day, he said.

“They realized that the people who were victims of this were not the individual who had robbed him and that it was not the right residence,” Baker said.

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