A Washington man pleaded guilty to first-degree murder on Thursday after admitting starting a three-alarm fire at a community college in 1987 when he was 12 years old which killed a veteran firefighter.
Elmer Nash Jr., now 47, was charged for the fire that destroyed the library at Everett Community College and claimed the life of firefighter Gary Parks, 48.
More than 100 firefighters responded to the blaze on February 16, 1987 that gutted the structure, and Parks was among the first to arrive and enter the building.
Parks, an 18-year veteran of the Everett Fire Department, was separated from five other firefighters and was trapped in the blaze and died.
But the case went cold for three decades until Nash was recognized by cold case detective Mike Atwood when he was being booked into jail on unrelated charges in 2017, the Daily Herald reports.
Elmer Nash Jr.,47, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder on Thursday for starting a deadly three-alarm fire when he was 12-years-old that killed Everett firefighter Gary Parks
Everett firefighter Gary Parks died responding the the Everett Community College fire in 1987
Shortly after the fire, investigations determined the fire was deliberately set and The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms sent a special team to Everett to investigate the arson.
Nash was looked at as a suspect at the time after investigators found graffiti that blamed him for the blaze.
Police questioned him in 1987 but nothing came of it and other leads went nowhere for investigators until the case was picked up again by Everett Police Department Detective Atwood in 2016.
According to the Daily Herald, a chance encounter in a police station in April 2017 broke the cold case open.
The 1987 fire reportedly caused millions of dollars in damage to Everett Community College. More than 100 firefighters responded, and Parks was among the first to arrive and enter the building.
While assisting in a separate investigation, Detective Atwood recognized Nash as a suspect in the 1987 fire at a booking desk in the Snohomish County Jail.
When he approached Nash to have a discussion, the career criminal brought up the Everett Community College fire.
Nash agreed to speak to Atwood and the detective met up with him the following day at the local jail.
During questioning from fellow Detective Karen Kowalchyk, Nash asked what the statute of limitations would be for somebody who set the 1987 fire.
During questioning Nash placed himself on the roof of the library on the night of the fire and suggested matchsticks were used to start the blaze.
Nash then told Detective Kowalchyk he was on the library roof that night because he and two friends had broken in, hoping to find something to steal.
Nash told Detective Kowalchyk the fire was started to destroy evidence of their fingerprints at the scene.
According to a statement from the City of Everett, Nash eventually confessed to starting the deadly fire and told detectives he had not intended on hurting anyone.
Detectives also interviewed people to whom Nash had confessed starting the fire.
While fighting the 1987 fire Parks became separated from five other firefighters and was trapped in the blaze and died. A memorial of a firefighter’s helmet and jacket now stands at Everett Community College
According to UPI reports, Stan Horton, the Everett Community College library director at the time, said the fire caused millions of dollars in damage, destroying 50,000 books, 20,000 periodicals and hundreds of student records.
A memorial of a firefighter’s helmet and jacket now stands at Everett Community College.
More than 30 years after the arson that claimed her husband’s life, Parks’ widow Kathy expressed her gratitude for the breakthrough in the case.
‘Gary was a good man, a trusted partner and friend you could always count on,’ she 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.’
In plea negotiations, the prosecution and defense agreed to recommend a sentence lower than the standard sentencing range for Nash.
Defense attorney Philip Sayles said Nash understands that the judge does not have to follow the recommendation. His standard sentencing range as an adult would be 34 to 45 years in prison.