OAKLAND, Calif. (KPIX) - A California father is being remembered as a hero after he died trying to rescue his 1-year-old daughter from an early morning house fire, believed to be an act of arson and of gang violence.
Esam Musleh, 37, and his 1-year-old daughter, Alia Musleh, died Saturday when a fire engulfed their 3-story house in Oakland, California. Musleh’s wife, who is nine months pregnant, has second-degree burns to her lower body. Her mother also suffered from burns.
Police say Musleh died trying to rescue his daughter. Firefighters found their bodies together.
“The father and the child were found together. So, it’s really sad, but the father is a hero. He sacrificed his life,” said Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong.
The fire is being investigated as an act of arson. Witnesses say someone threw objects through the windows, causing fast-moving flames.
“It’s really sad that someone in our community would do something so heinous as to set a home on fire in the middle of the night, killing an innocent family,” Armstrong said.
Police say the Muslehs are the innocent victims of one of several retaliatory attacks related to the death of 25-year-old Dejoh Woods, who is believed to have had ties to a local gang.
According to family members, Musleh was working as a cashier at Booker’s Liquor Store the Saturday before the fire when someone shot and killed Woods inside the store. Police say Woods and a customer got into a dispute before the shooting. The man who allegedly shot Woods turned himself in to police Thursday.
Investigators suspect Woods’ associates set fire to the liquor store Wednesday night and may also be responsible for the shooting at another store that injured a cashier Monday.
Mohammed Alsamma, the victims’ cousin, says the suspect in Woods’ death is from the Middle East. The Muslehs immigrated to the United States to escape war-torn Yemen and had been hoping for a peaceful life.
“We are not related to the guy who shot him, so I don’t know why they came after us,” Alsamma said. “We run from Yemen because of the war. We thought we are safe here, but death followed us to this place.”