Denver Police Chief Robert White said a call came in at around 1:50 a.m. reporting a fire at Fero’s Bar and Grill, 351 S. Colorado Blvd.
Firefighters battling the blaze found the bodies of four women and one man inside the bar. All were pronounced dead at the scene, White said.
“It appears there was some trauma to the bodies — it also appears to be an arson,” White told reporters at an early-morning briefing.
White would not elaborate on the nature of the trauma.
Ron Saunier, commander of the Denver Police Major Crimes Unit, said he believes the victims did not perish in the fire and that the blaze was set to mask the homicide.
“It’s going to be a long, drawn-out investigation at this point,” Saunier said.
All five victims were inside the restaurant when fire crews arrived, but their bodies were removed from the building as crews worked to extinguish the blaze, Saunier said.
The names of the victims were not immediately released, pending autopsies.
White said it was unclear whether the bar was closed or in the process of closing when the fire started. Police do not believe there was anyone else in the bar at the time.
Police are asking anyone who may have been in the bar Tuesday night or Wednesday morning to come forward and speak with authorities.
A former owner of the bar, Danny Duane Fero, said Wednesday morning the bar is owned by his ex-wife, Young Suk Fero.
Danny Fero, 58, said he bought the bar in 1984 and that his wife became sole owner following their separation in 1998.
Danny Fero, a retired federal worker from Aurora, said he awoke this morning and heard about the deaths while watching TV.
“I have no clue” what happened, he said. He did not know who may have been in the bar. He said he was driving to the bar.
Ricky Jackson of Denver worked as a part-time bartender at Fero’s over the last couple months but said he recently stopped working at the bar because business was slow, even though the bar has a few regular customers. He said the bar typically closed at 2 a.m. every night.
Jackson said the car of owner Young Fero was parked in the parking lot of the business Wednesday morning.
The small bar is sandwiched between a check-cashing business and Eric’s Custom Tailors Alterations in a strip mall.
The front of the building advertises burgers, steaks and Italian cuisine. A life-sized poster of a woman in a bikini stands beside a giant bottle of Budweiser just right of the entrance.