KENDALL - A woman who died in a mobile home fire in the Paradise Lakes area appeared to have killed herself as she was about to be arrested for embezzling about $100,000, investigators said Thursday, June 28.
A detective had knocked on Belinda K. Barnett's door early Wednesday to interview her about the theft investigation, said Whatcom County Undersheriff Jeff Parks.
Nobody opened the door.
At 9:15 a.m., firefighters arrived at 6128 Poppy Court to find flames shooting from a doublewide mobile home. Soon after the heavy smoke and flames were knocked down, firefighters found a body near the front door.
Barnett, 45, died from smoke inhalation. She showed no other signs of injury, said Whatcom County Medical Examiner Gary Goldfogel.
Because no arrest had been made and no charges were filed, Parks declined to say which business Barnett allegedly stole from. He said she was fired from an accounting job in January. The theft was reported to the sheriff's office in March.
Barnett was an active member of First Baptist Church in Bellingham, said her pastor, Jeff Flint. She led nature walks for a kids' summer camp, cooked "lavish" Thanksgiving dinners for the needy and gave quilting lessons.
"We're pretty shocked around here," Flint said of her death. "And somber," he added after a pause.
Barnett started working as a saleswoman for Aflac in February. Coworker Ursula Chapman said Barnett had a big "boisterous" personality and a love for animals.
Once, when Chapman was having trouble paying her bills, Barnett helped her out.
"She took me to the electric company and put money on my account," Chapman said. "We barely knew each other, and she was willing to give her right arm for me."
Reached later in the day, after the alleged felony came to light, Chapman recalled Barnett had pulled her aside one day while they were having coffee and mentioned she was having some legal issues with her former employer. Barnett maintained her innocence.
Chapman said the allegation didn't change her opinion about Barnett.
"No," she said, "not at all."
The exact cause of the fire had not been released as of Thursday, but foul play was not suspected, Parks said.
Fire District 14 Chief Jerry DeBruin said the fire appeared to have started in a master bedroom. The county fire marshal and the sheriff's office are investigating.
Barnett's pets are now in custody of the Whatcom Humane Society. Her goat had given birth on Easter.
A memorial service is scheduled for 3 p.m. July 7 at First Baptist, 110 Flora St.
Reach CALEB HUTTON at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2276.