DENVER (AP) — Police were investigating the deaths of five people whose bodies were found in a neighborhood bar after a fire broke out around closing time early Wednesday. Police think the blaze was set to cover up their slayings.
Firefighters found four women and one man dead inside Fero’s Bar & Grill. The fire was reported around 2 a.m.
“There is just trauma, enough information to believe that we have a homicide that occurred here. They didn’t perish in the fire,” police Commander Ronald Saunier said.
The fire didn’t appear to be very large. No damage to the bar was visible from the street or aerial news coverage. Red stains that appeared to be blood were visible on the sidewalk in front of the bar. Some of the stains were in trails on the sidewalk and others appeared to have been where blood had pooled.
The police officer who reported the fire said he heard screams, but investigators said they likely came from bystanders outside.
“Based on the severity of the injuries, we don’t think they came from inside,” fire department spokesman Lt. Phil Champagne said.
The bar is located in a strip mall about five miles south of downtown Denver just beyond the tony Cherry Creek North shopping district. The bar attracted both regulars and people staying in nearby hotels, but neighbors said it didn’t seem busy most days. It’s wedged in among a check-cashing store, a tennis shop, a nail salon and a car repair shop in the strip mall on one of the city’s busiest streets, Colorado Boulevard.
Frequent patron Chris Brady said the customers ranged from “semi-homeless-looking people” to patrons in suits and ties.
He was at the bar for a regular poker game held Tuesdays and won $25 cash before leaving about 11 p.m.
“There was nobody random or crazy in there,” Brady said.
Brady said bar co-owner Young Fero, known for cooking up beef bowls at a moment’s notice, usually would close the bar herself, and she bid him goodnight Tuesday as he paid his tab.
“She said, “Thank you sweetie, have a good night,’” Brady said. “I said, ‘You too.’”
No one answered the door at Fero’s home in Aurora. A sign on the door read, “Day sleeper, please don’t ring the doorbell! Thank you.” It was signed “The sleeper.”
Neighbor Mike Spinale described Fero as “really nice.”
“She didn’t speak much, but I know she owned a bar and she worked all the time,” Spinale said. “She told me she did everything herself.”
Danny Fero, who said he was Young Fero’s ex-husband, said he went to the scene Wednesday and talked with police, but he wasn’t asked to identify any of the bodies. He said he did not know who might have been at the bar Wednesday morning.
“She always worked late and closed the bar,” he said.
He doesn’t know if she was one of the victims.
Danny Fero said he talked with her about a month ago regarding a visit with their daughter, but his ex-wife made no mention of any threats. He said he was shocked by the events at the bar he once co-owned with her.
“I wanted to make myself available to police as soon as possible,” Danny Fero said, adding police asked him not to discuss other details of the case.
Jerry Richardson, who maintained an ATM at the bar, described Young Fero as “feisty.”
“When she wanted that machine fixed, she would tell you about it,” Richardson said.
Business seemed to go on as usual in the surrounding area as police investigated the slayings. People walked their dogs and customers visited a nearby vitamin shop. Aziz Dashti, a University of Denver student from Kuwait, was worried.
“I’ve never felt this insecure about being in my place,” said Dashti, who was awakened by a friend in Kuwait who heard the news and messaged him.
The five dead are believed to be the only ones in the bar when the fire started — other than any possible outside suspects — so police are asking anyone else who was at the place earlier to come forward, as investigators try to piece together what happened.
The victims haven’t been identified. Autopsies were expected to be completed later in the day.
Frank Peluso, who works in an office building a half block away, said he used to eat lunch at the bar but hasn’t been there in three years. He said it seemed to be declining and the owners have tried various things to attract more business, including offering karaoke.
“It’s one of those places that you wonder how it stays in business,” Peluso said.
Resident Matthew Neam said you can’t see into the bar because the front windows are frosted. He said he and his friend used to joke about what might be inside.
“I’ve never gone in there. It always looked kind of sketchy to me,” Neam said.
Associated Press Researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.