Murder charge for 1987 fatal blaze at Everett Community College
Photo courtesy Everett Community College
Five firefighters got trapped in the 1987 early-morning fire at the college's library. Detectives have finally solved who set it.
EVERETT — A crack in a 34-year mystery led to murder charges being filed againdst a Snohomish man for the death of Everett firefighter Gary Parks, who died in a 1987 fire set by arson at Everett Community College.
Last week, 47-year-old Elmer Nash Jr. pleaded guilty to first-degree murder at an arraignment in Snohomish County Superior Court.
Nash was 12 when he and his friends broke into the library Feb. 16, 1987. He lit some books on fire, thinking it would remove tracks of the break-in. The inferno in the library consumed the building and destroyed the nearby student union.
Parks and a group of other firefighters became trapped in the library while flames raged. The others managed to crawl out. Parks, an 18-year veteran at the department, died age 48.
After decades without solid evidence, detectives established probable cause to arrest Nash after he made a confession, the city said.
“Several potential suspects, all juvenile males, were initially identified and thought to have entered the library through an open window and deliberately started a fire in conjunction with a burglary,” the city said.
The city said that at the time, detectives could not establish probable cause for any of the suspects. Numerous investigators pored over the material but were unable to make substantial progress. It took Nash providing a crucial detail to break through.
“After 34 years, the City of Everett will finally see someone held accountable for the loss of our Firefighter Gary Parks, who died in the service of our community,” said Mayor Cassie Franklin in a news statement Thursday. “I commend our city teams for working tirelessly to crack the case and continue towards resolution in this tragic event.”
Parks’ death is so far the last line-of-death fatality for the Everett Fire Department.
“The generation of Everett Firefighters who worked with Gary have retired, but the memory of his loss is woven into the culture of the Everett Fire Department. All Everett Firefighters, active and retired, are thankful for the progress in this case,” Everett Fire Chief Dave DeMarco said in a news statement. “Our thoughts are with his family today. We are also profoundly thankful to our brothers and sisters in law enforcement for their tenacity and dedication to investigate this case.”
EvCC’s logo was inspired by the three spires of the Feather Star sculpture, one of the only parts of Cascade Hall to survive the fire. A permanent memorial to Parks stands north of the building that carries his name. A bench nearby has an embedded bronze firefighter’s helmet and jacket as a tribute.
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