OAKLAND (CBS SF) — While investigators continued their search for a suspect Monday, a family that fled Yemen seeking a new life in America was mourning the deaths of a father and baby daughter in a weekend arson fire — the innocent victims of a mistaken retaliatory attack.
Esam Musleh and his 1-year-old daughter Alia Musleh died when a fire engulfed their 3-story house located right across from the front entrance of Bishop O’Dowd High School at 12:14 a.m. Saturday. His pregnant wife remains hospitalized with burns.
Mohammed Alsamma, the victims’ cousin, is still trying to come to grips with their deaths. He said the family thought they had found a safe, new home in Oakland after living in fear for years in Yemen.
“We run from Yemen because of the war,” said Alsamma with an emotional edge to his voice. “We thought we are safe here, but death followed us to this place.”
Esam Musleh was working as a cashier at Booker’s Liquor store when someone shot and killed 25-year-old Dejoh Woods inside.
Musleh played no role in the shooting, police said, but the family became the innocent victims of one of several retaliatory attacks related to the homicide.
Police said Woods and a customer got into a dispute before the shooting. The man who shot Woods turned himself in to the Oakland police on Thursday.
Investigators believed Woods has ties to a local gang. They suspected his associates set fire to the liquor store on Wednesday night. Detectives said those associates may also be responsible for the shooting at another store in West Oakland that injured a cashier on Monday.
Alsamma said the man who shot and killed Woods is from the Middle East.
“We are not related to the guy who shot (Woods),” Alasmma said. “So I don’t know why they came after us.”
Investigators said Esam Musleh died doing what he had always done — protecting his family from harm. He raced into the flames to try to rescue his trapped daughter. Firefighters found their bodies together.
“The father and the child were found together,” said Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong. “And so it’s really sad, but the father is a hero. He sacrificed his life.”
“It’s really sad that in our community that someone would do something so heinous, as in setting a home on fire in the middle of the night and killing an innocent family,” Armstrong added.
Esam and his daughter are Oakland’s 43rd and 44th homicides of the year. A year that is at a historic pace for deadly violence in the East Bay city.