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A California father who escaped war in Yemen is being hailed a hero after he died attempting to rescue his 1-year-old daughter from a deadly house fire on Saturday.
Esam Musleh, 37, and his baby daughter Aliyah Musleh, died after their home was set ablaze in a suspected arson attack on April 17, police said. Firefighters were dispatched to the family’s residence at around 12:14 a.m. after reports that a fire had been purposefully ignited and “several people and children” were trapped inside. Arson investigators indicated the fires were set intentionally. The Musleh's deaths are being investigated as homicides.
"The father and the child were found together," Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong told KPIX. "And so it's really sad, but the father is a hero. He sacrificed his life."
Two others were also injured in the house fire. Musleh’s pregnant wife suffered second-degree burns to her lower body, according to her family, the station reported.
"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.
Witnesses told investigators they saw someone hurling objects through the home’s windows, which caused quick-spreading flames to engulf the home.
“[Family members] heard something exploding, you know, twice or three times,” Mohammed Alsamma, Meseh’s cousin, told KPIX.
Detectives believe the deadly fire was a retaliatory attack tied to a series of targeted blazes that erupted around Oakland in the wake of a possible gang shooting earlier this month.
On April 10, Dejoh Woods, 25, who police allege was affiliated with local gangs, was gunned down at Booker’s Liquor store in south Oakland. Musleh, a cashier at the liquor store, was working at the time of the shooting, according to his family. Four days later, the liquor store was torched, followed by Museh’s home.
The shooting also may be connected to a separate liquor store shooting, which injured another clerk in West Oakland on April 12, according to the East Bay Times.
"We are not related to the guy who shot [Woods]," Mohammed Alsamma added. "So I don't know why they came after us."
The suspected shooter has since turned himself into police. Alameda District Attorney’s Office is currently reviewing charges in the case.
"It is sad," Faisal Alsamma, Musleh's brother-in-law, told PEOPLE. "Esam was a hard worker. A giving guy, a nice guy."
Museh fled Yemen’s bloody civil war approximately half a decade ago, his family said. He ultimately settled in Oakland with his wife, daughter, and other family.
“We run from Yemen because of the war,” Mohammed Alsamma told KPIX. “We thought we are safe here. But death followed us to this place.”
The family was expecting a second child in the coming months, relatives said.
“He was eager to be a father, and Aliyah was his world," Faisal Alsamma also told KTVU. "Esam could not wait to expect the newest addition to the family, baby No. 2. Aliyah was sweet, spunky and full of life...She made the family happy and the home bright. Our entire family and community are at a loss for words. We are in shock."
Aliyah Musleh would have turned two years old next month, according to police. Family members described the young girl as a “sweet angel.”
“As soon as she walks through the door we would all fight over who's going to hug and kiss her first, and she loved it," another cousin of Meseh’s told KTVU. "She was very overprotective of her parents and so obsessed with her dad. No one was allowed to hug Esam except her. He was her everything, and she was his.”
Esam and Aliyah Musleh’s deaths mark the 43rd and 44th homicides in Oakland so far this year.
Oakland Police have issued a $40,000 reward for information related to the ongoing arson investigations. The public is urged to make an anonymous tip by calling Oakland Crime Stoppers 510-777-8572.
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