BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. — EDITOR'S NOTE: In July 2022, Denis Molla was charged with two counts of wire fraud after investigators said his claims of politically-motivated vandalism and arson (originally detailed below) were false. In their indictment, federal investigators said Molla started the fire and spray painted the graffiti himself. Click here for the full update.
It was a harrowing morning for Deana and Denis Molla of Brooklyn Center. The parents of two small children were stirred from their sleep at 3:40 a.m. by the sound of a boom outside their home and the sight of flames leaping from their driveway.
"I was just thinking that it was not real. I thought it was just some sort of dream or something," Denis Molla told KARE Wednesday morning, as officers from the FBI, ATF and Brooklyn Center Police Department poked through the rubble of his garage for clues.
Political graffiti that appeared the same night as the fire has led investigators to suspect it might have been set by someone unhappy with the Trump 2020 flag hanging from the family's camper in the driveway.
Denis has been sleeping in the guest bedroom in the basement because he was in quarantine after contracting COVID-19. He said he exited the egress window in the basement and saw three figures in the yard.
He gave chase but abandoned the pursuit after realizing he was still in his boxer shorts. But one of the people he chased dropped a matchbox, which Dennis collected before heading back inside to warn the family.
The camper was on fire and the flames had spread to two extended cab pickup trucks parked next to the camper.
"He got the baby and I went and got our son. As I'm going up the stairs the cops are in our house yelling, asking if anyone was in the house, so I gave them our son," Deana recalled.
The fire eventually spread from the trucks to a detached garage, where four puppies were sleeping. Dennis said when he opened the service door to the garage black smoke billowed out of it.
"I couldn't see anything. I had to just feel for where the puppies were. I got two out and went back in and got the other two."
People with knowledge of the fire are asked to contact the Minnesota Arson Reward Project, which is offering rewards of up to $5000 for information that could lead to prosecution. The statewide arson hotline is 1-800-723-2020.
In all the chaos Denis and Deana did not have a chance to look at their garage door. But one of the Brooklyn Center police officers who rolled up on the scene snapped a photo the door that put the situation in a different light.
Someone had spray painted "Biden 2020" and "BLM" and the classic A in a circle, the longtime symbol used by anarchists. The door was crumped in a heap by the time the fire was extinguished, but the officer's photo captured it before the flames got to it.
"It doesn't matter what party we are, Republican or Democratic, I feel like this is just over and beyond terrible," Denis Molla remarked.
He had purchased the 3-foot by 5-foot Trump flag 10 days earlier, and had it mounted on the side of the camper where it could be seen by passing cars. Deana said someone stole the flag Monday morning, but they had an extra one that they erected later that day.
She was stunned at what happened especially because of the children's play structures are also visible from the road.
"These people knew that we had children and they still thought it was okay to do this, knowing that there's babies in this house!" Deana exclaimed.
Dennis said he's trying to focus on what he's thankful for, including the police officers and firefighters who arrived to take care of the family and keep the fire from overtaking their house.
"Our children are okay. Our dogs are all okay. So, I'm saying I'm thankful that our family's safe. That's the main thing. All this is material," he said, pointing at the charred garage and pickup trucks.
The Brooklyn Center Police and Fire Departments are working with the Hennepin County Crime Lab, Hennepin County Fire Investigation Team, MN State Fire Marshall Office, ATF and FBI.