A homeless man was arrested in Bellingham in connection with starting a deadly fire in December in Everett, police there said.
William J. Matthews, 40, was arrested in the 900 block of Iowa Street Monday night on suspicion of first-degree arson and first-degree assault, according to a news release from Everett Police.
After authorities asked the public for information to identify a “person of interest,” they received a tip that led them to Bellingham. Matthews was questioned at the Bellingham Police Department. He allegedly confessed to starting the fire.
On Dec. 21, around 10 p.m., Matthews walked to the L-shaped Colby Square Apartments, at 2229 Colby Ave., where he allegedly started a fire in the only stairwell that connected the first and second floors. As the fire spread, residents were forced to jump to safety, or find another way out.
Two residents were taken to Providence Regional Medical Center, and a 76-year-old woman who suffered from smoke inhalation later died. The cause and manner of her death are still under investigation, according to the news release.
The Everett Herald reported Matthews suffers from mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder and that he started the fire as “a cry for attention and help.”
It’s possible Matthews may face additional charges, such as murder or manslaughter, if the woman’s death can be attributed to the fire, as well as charges for displacing the rest of the residents, according to Everett Police spokesman Aaron Snell.
Snell said the fire appears to have been intentionally set, but police aren’t releasing how the fire was started.
All of the residents were displaced, and the damage is estimated at $1.5 million.
Matthews’ bail has been set at $500,000.