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.
According to the Daily Herald, a chance encounter in a police station in April 2017 broke the cold case open.
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.
From Chief DeMarco: “The generation of Everett Firefighters who worked with Gary have retired, but the memory of his loss is woven into the culture of the EFD. All Everett FFs, active & retired, are thankful for the progress in this case. Our thoughts are with his family today.” https://t.co/Dj6mFllD0p— Everett Fire WA (@EverettFire) March 25, 2021
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.
A memorial of a firefighter’s helmet and jacket now stands at Everett Community College.
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.