EVERETT, Wash. — After 34 years, the person responsible for setting a three-alarm fire that killed a firefighter at Everett Community College in 1987 will be held accountable.
Everett firefighter Gary Parks, 48, died fighting the fire that destroyed the school’s library and student union.
Investigators now know that the person who set the fire on Feb. 16, 1987, was Elmer Nash, who was charged on Thursday with first-degree murder in the firefighter’s death. Nash pleaded guilty.
He was 12 years old when he set the fire. Nash is now 47.
By the time fire trucks rolled up to the campus shortly after 3 a.m., the fire was raging. Walls and sections of roof had collapsed or were close to falling over.
Crews trying to get water to the base of the flames entered with air tanks so they could breath amid the thick smoke.
Parks, who was an 18-year veteran of the Everett Fire Department, became separated from five other firefighters and became trapped inside the building, where he died.
Firefighters were never able to gain control of the fire, which essentially burned itself out.
The fire consumed an estimated 48,000 books and 19,000 periodicals, including yearbooks and historical records, the college said. Damages totaled more than $8 million, according to the school.
Police said several potential suspects, all juvenile males, were initially identified and were believed to have entered the library through an open window and deliberately started a fire during a burglary.
But detectives couldn’t establish probable cause for any suspects. Over the years, many investigators reviewed the case but were unable to make considerable progress.
“In 2016, Arson Detective Mike Atwood took over the case. After reviewing what steps other investigators took, Detective Atwood compiled information that led to multiple interviews with Elmer Nash, Jr. It was during the interviews that Elmer discussed the fire and provided details that only someone involved would know. Eventually, Nash confessed to starting the fatal fire and expressed concern that he hadn’t intended to hurt anyone. Detective Atwood continued his investigation with interviews of other witnesses that Nash had previously confessed to,” the City of Everett said in a news release.
After decades of wondering, the victim’s family finally has answers.
“Gary was a good man, a trusted partner and friend you could always count on. He was there to help a daughter fix her car, help a wife put on her ski boots and never had a day he didn’t show up to work his shift at the Everett Fire Department,” wife Kathy Parks said. “We are so very grateful to the detectives who never gave up on this case. Our family will always suffer knowing Gary hasn’t reaped the fruits of his life, grandchildren, daughters’ successes, and a wife who will cherish him forever.”