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'The Father Is A Hero'; Oakland Man, 1-Year-Old Daughter Die In Horrific Arson Fire

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- An Oakland father, who brought his family to the San Francisco Bay Area to escape war-torn Yemen, died trying to rescue his 1-year-old daughter from an early morning arson fire and was being heralded as a hero Sunday by police and family members.

Esam Musleh and his little 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.

Esam Musleh worked as a clerk in a liquor store. The family had immigrated to the United States to escape war-torn Yemen.

"We run from Yemen because of the war," Alsamma said. "We thought we are safe here. But death followed us to this place."

Police said the family was the innocent victims of one of several retaliatory attacks related to a homicide a week ago. Now, 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.

Investigators said witnesses have told them that someone was throwing objects through the house windows, causing fast moving flames to burn.

"(Family members) heard something exploding, you know, twice or three times," said Mohammed Alsamma, the victims' cousin.

Alsamma also lived at the house. He was at work when someone called him to alert him that his home was on fire. He confirmed the fire killed his cousin Esam and his one-year-old daughter Alia.

Police said the father tried to rescue the girl as the deadly flames engulfed the home. 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,"

Armstrong said Muslef's wife suffered second degree burns to her lower body.

"She was supposed to give birth this month," said Alsamma.

He said his cousin was working as a cashier at Booker's Liquor store last Saturday when someone shot and killed 25-year-old Dejoh Woods inside the store.

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.

The arson marked the latest retaliatory attack. 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."

"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 said.

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