BIRCH BAY - Often in the months before a fire devoured Kenneth Cassell's house, neighbors saw him with his head bowed down, alone, retracing the path where he once walked his dogs.
The dogs - 48 mini Australian shepherds - were seized in April 2012 when he was accused, and later convicted, of keeping them caged in squalor on the property southeast of Birch Bay.
He blamed a lot of people for the loss of those dogs, according to charges filed this week in Whatcom County Superior Court. Cassell had grudges with the Whatcom Humane Society, with his appointed public defender and with Tony Parise, the district court commissioner who banned him in November from ever owning animals, following Cassell's second conviction for animal cruelty.
Prosecutors believe that he reached his breaking point Feb. 13, when he allegedly set fire to his home, armed himself with a revolver and drove to Bellingham to wait outside the county courthouse, 311 Grand Ave.
That afternoon, as Cassell's house burned to the ground 17 miles away, Parise looked out his fourth-story window and saw Cassell - wearing a dark sportsjacket, a tie and combat boots - on the sidewalk, between the courthouse and the public defender's office.
Police arrested Cassell as he fled south on Prospect Street, ending a three-hour manhunt. In his waistband, they found a loaded .357 Magnum revolver. He also had a speed loader with enough ammo for one quick reload, said Whatcom County Prosecutor David McEachran.
"Exactly what was going to happen, I'm not going to speculate about that," McEachran said, adding that Cassell's intentions remain under investigation.
In the charging documents filed Tuesday, Feb. 19, the prosecutor outlined the Feb. 13 events leading up to Cassell's arrest:
At 8:05 a.m., a neighbor went to Cassell's house to offer him a ride to the Bellingham Food Bank. He found the driveway blocked by a big red recycling container. They talked for a few minutes. At some point in the conversation, Cassell mentioned he had a gun in his truck. He said he had thoughts about confronting someone at the humane society, but he "couldn't live with himself if he shot the wrong person," according to prosecutors.
The neighbor asked Cassell if he was all right, then told him to call him later. According to the charges, Cassell replied with something to the effect of, "Where I'm going, you won't be able to call me."
At 8:40 a.m., witnesses reported the house was in flames. Firefighters found what appeared to be a suicide note on the door of Cassell's dilapidated red barn. But when they knocked down the flames and went into the house searching for a body, they didn't find Cassell.
Instead, they were met with gas cans and a propane tank. One of the cans got knocked over, spilling gasoline along the floor.
Meanwhile, deputies interviewed another neighbor who said that last summer, Cassell said he needed to clear some brush so he could "shoot anyone who came on his property," according to the charges.
At 10:30 a.m., firefighters backed off. They let the house burn, fearing Cassell might have holed up in the barn with a rifle. A SWAT team surrounded the barn at noon. As they prepared to go in, Parise spotted Cassell in downtown Bellingham.
Throughout the manhunt, humane society buildings were in lockdown. In the past Cassell had blamed animal control for stripping him of his breeding business, according to the charges. In an interview in April 2012, he claimed the humane society fabricated evidence to take his dogs away. He thought of himself as a reputable breeder.
When he lost his business, he lost his livelihood. He couldn't pay for heat, electricity or a phone. And because he wasn't keeping up with his house payments, his property was set for auction on the county courthouse steps Friday, Feb. 15.
Now Cassell faces charges of first-degree arson and unlawful carrying of a concealed weapon. He's being held in Whatcom County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail.
In one of the notes Cassell left behind, he claimed he'd sold everything he owned to a neighbor for a dollar. McEachran wrote in the charges: "It appeared that he was getting rid of his assests, and burning his residence as an act of finality."
1990s: Kenneth Martin Cassell starts breeding mini Australian shepherds at his home, 7115 W. 40th Drive, southeast of Birch Bay.
April 23, 2004: Cassell is cited with a dozen counts of second-degree animal cruelty. He's later convicted of a single count.
April 6, 2012: After several months of gathering evidence, animal control officers obtain a warrant to seize 48 mini Australian shepards from Cassell's home.
April 18, 2012: In an interview with The Bellingham Herald, Cassell denies allegations of animal abuse. Countering claims made by the Whatcom Humane Society, he says gave the dogs adequate water and space to roam.
Oct. 31, 2012: A jury finds Cassell guilty of three counts of second-degree animal cruelty and one count of violating the state's new "puppy mill" law. He's acquitted on 11 counts of abusing specific dogs.
Nov. 7, 2012: Cassell is banned for life from owning any animals. Whatcom County District Court Commissioner Tony Parise orders him to serve 10 days of jail time. "The lying thieves won," Cassell tells a reporter. "That's all I have to say."
Feb. 13, 2013: A fire destroys Cassell's home. His property had been scheduled for auction later in the week. Investigators suspect arson. More than three hours after the first 911 call, Cassell is arrested when he's spotted loitering outside the county courthouse, carrying a loaded .357 Magnum revolver, according to the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office.