DENVER -- The man accused of starting a fire at an apartment complex that injured almost a dozen people and displaced even more appeared in court Wednesday. Kenneth Shepard was formally advised of 13 arson charges.
Several victims are rebuilding their lives after losing everything, including a couple who survived after jumping out of the third floor. The fire broke out on Easter night at the apartment complex on Federal Boulevard and West 26th Avenue.
Alyssa Meara and Chris Pena said even the clothes they escaped with were ruined. Pena remembers seeing black smoke fill their apartment.
“Get out or you’re going to die. Every second got worse. I kept telling her, 'We need to go. We need to go,’" Pena said.
Then the two were forced to do the unthinkable: They had to throw their 7-month-old girl Avaleigh out of the third-story window.
“She was holding the baby out the window ... because the smoke was just blanketing our neck. It was hot. We just felt it behind us,” Pena said.
“Like the hardest thing ever. I had to let her go,” Meara said.
A neighbor caught Avaleigh. The girl was OK. Moments later, Pena jumped out of the window, then Meara.
“I landed on my feet. I heard a big crack out of my spine,” said Meara, who is recovering from a fractured vertebrae.
On Wednesday, the building they once called home is closed and boarded up. They are staying at a nearby Motel 6 until they can find a new place to live.
Meanwhile, the man investigators said started the fire heard the judge read the one count of first-degree arson and 12 counts of fourth-degree arson.
“I hope he goes to jail for a long time,” Meara said.
The couple said they hope justice is served, but they are more worried about what’s really important.
“We thank God every day that we are still here and that our baby is still here and she’s OK. God was watching over us,” Meara said.
The judge set a preliminary hearing for Sheppard for April 25.
Pena and Meara said they are having a tough time finding another apartment. A family member has set up a GoFundMe account to help the couple get back on their feet.AlertMe