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Denver apt. fire: Arrest made after 11 were hurt

Posted: 1:08 AM, Mar 31, 2016
Updated: 2016-03-31 20:45:15-04

A suspect who the Denver Fire Department thinks was involved in starting a fire at a northwest Denver apartment complex on Easter Sunday was arrested Wednesday. 

Investigators arrested Kenneth Shepard on an arson charge after obtaining surveillance video of the area.

The fire broke out around 9:15 p.m. at the Federal View Apartments on W. 26th Avenue and Federal Boulevard in Denver last Sunday. 

When fire crews arrived at the scene, they found tenants jumping from second and third story units . About four dozen firefighters would later throw ladders to upper levels to rescue multiple infants, children and adults.

Chris Pena, Aylessa Miera and their baby daughter, Ava, were on the third floor in their apartment when fire broke out in the hallway.

“I heard the smoke alarms,” Pena said. “I thought someone was burning something (on their stove) so I didn’t get up.

A minute later he saw smoke coming under his door, so he opened it. 

“A rush of hot, black smoke hit me in the face,” he said.  “I couldn’t breathe… it was this weird, weird, chemical smelling smoke, with a weird smell and taste.  You couldn’t see.”

He said the blast of smoke was so hot, he couldn’t close the door, so he ran to the window and “knocked it open.”

His girlfriend, Aylessa, was holding their baby.

"As soon as the apartment filled up with smoke, I remember thinking like this is it?  This how we're going to die, you know from a fire?” she said.  

“My girl was in shock,” Pena said, “I was telling her, we need to get out of here.  We’re going to die.  We need to get out of here.  Every second counts.”

Pena said that’s when he saw a woman over at the nearby 7-Eleven.

“And we’re yelling, ‘Help us.  Help our baby.  Come help us.’”

He said the woman (later identified as Reyna Rodriguez) and the man (later identified as Lee Velez) ran over and held a blanket between them in order to catch the baby.

"I had to let my baby go. That was the hardest thing," Miera told Denver7.

Velez said that as the baby came down, he dropped his end of the blanket and caught the baby with his bare hands.

“They’re heroes,” said Pena’s sister, Monique Gonzales. “I love the fact that they ran and helped my niece.”

Pena said that after their baby was safe, they jumped.  He says he landed okay, but Miera ended up with a fractured vertebra.

Denver Fire said the cause of the fire remains under investigation. 

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