Man arrested in deadly Everett arson says it was 'cry for help'

KOMO photo

EVERETT, Wash. - A man suspected of starting a deadly three-alarm fire last month at an Everett apartment complex has been tracked down and arrested, police said Tuesday.

Investigators began looking for a suspect after determining that the Dec. 21 blaze at the Colby Square Apartments was a result of arson. A 76-year-old woman was overcome by smoke inhalation during the blaze and was hospitalized in critical condition. She died four days later on Christmas Day. But investigators haven't yet determined if she died as a result of the fire.

A 40-year-old homeless man was eventually identified as the suspected arsonist. Acting on a tip, detectives tracked the man down in Bellingham, where he was questioned and admitted starting the fire, according to Snohomish County Superior Court documents. He also provided details that only the arsonist would have known, the court file says.

The man, described in police documents as a drifter from New Jersey with mental health issues, told police he started the blaze as a "cry for attention and help," court documents state.

The man was then arrested and booked into the Snohomish County Jail for investigation of first-degree arson and first-degree assault. Court documents state he also may be charged with murder or manslaughter if it is found that the 76-year-old woman's death directly resulted from the fire.

A judge ordered the man held on $500,000 bail.

"I feel sorry for him, but not a lot. If that was a cry for help, you should have knocked on my door. I would have helped him. I would have fed him. I would have done something for him," said Jan Robinson, who lived at the complex for 16 years. She lost everything in the fire, except for the night gown she was wearing and a pair of socks.

"By the time I had banged on 4 doors, there was no going back that way. You couldn’t go back that way. It was gone. The center of the building was an inferno," Robinson said.

A neighbor threw Robinson over the balcony, she said. She hung on by one arm until a man on the ground below got underneath her and helped get her down into the bed of a nearby truck, she added.

"All of our lives changed in 5 minutes," Robinson said.

Police say the suspect started the blaze in the only stairwell that connected the first and second floors of the apartment building in the 2200 block of Colby Avenue. As the flames spread and grew, second-floor residents were trapped and forced to jump to safety or find alternative ways out.

One other victim was also injured in the blaze after jumping 10 feet to the ground from the second floor. That person survived.

All residents of the 14-unit apartment building were displaced by the fire.

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