A man who got into a fight with a boxer outside a club went to the boxer's home later that night with friends and threw Molotov cocktails at the windows, igniting a fire that killed him and four relatives, police said Tuesday in announcing an arrest in the 2003 cold case.
Abdu Rivera, 32, was arrested Monday on five counts of murder, arson and related offenses in the November 2003 fire, Homicide Capt. James Clark said.
Clark said boxer John David Santiago had gotten into a fight with Rivera and a couple of his friends earlier in the evening, but because Santiago was a skilled boxer, he beat two or three of them up. Rivera and his friends tracked down Santiago's address and used accelerants to set fire to the home in the Olney neighborhood later that night, he said.
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"This is over a bar fight and pride," Clark said. "Because of their pride being hurt, they found out where he lived, came to the house and set the house on fire."
Santiago, 23, was killed along with his 41-year-old mother, Francisca DeJesus; his 17-year-old brother, Alex; his 17-year-old girlfriend, Clarissa Davila; and their 3-month-old daughter, Jacquelyn Enid Santiago. Three other family members escaped.
John Santiago was a four-time Pennsylvania Golden Gloves state champion, first as a 119-pounder and then in the 125-pound weight class. He scored a second-round knockout in his only professional fight in January 2003.
Clark said two detectives reopened the case in 2014 and persuaded witnesses to come forward.
The perpetrators threw a couple of Molotov cocktails at the front windows of the home, Clark said. Most of the occupants were unable to get out of the bolted back door and were trapped and died, he said.
Rivera, whom Clark described as "extremely well-known to police" with a lengthy criminal record, was taken into custody in the Upper Kensington neighborhood.
"He was very surprised to see us," Clark said.
One or two other people might be arrested, but Rivera "is the main person involved so we're very happy to get him off the streets," he said.
Relatives of the victims were "extremely happy" about the news, Clark said.
"We talked to the mother of one of the decedents — she lives in Florida now. She was ecstatic how we were able to bring this case to a close even after 13 years," he said.
A working number for Rivera couldn't be found Tuesday, and an attorney who formerly represented him said he had not been retained in this case. It was unclear whether Rivera had retained new counsel.