Two children died and three adults were injured after a fire engulfed a home in Washington in the early morning of July 15. Police initially arrested and held a couple on suspicion of arson in the matter, which took place in Skagit County near Mount Vernon.
The couple were initially on a 72-hour investigation hold in the case, and murder and arson charges were filed July 19. They came in the investigation of the fire, which killed 6-year old Xavier and 8-year-old Rose, the children of Jessica Starr.
Chism’s attorney, Jon Scott, said July 30 he requested a preliminary hearing in July because he didn’t think there was enough evidence to continue detaining him. Rather than going through the hearing, prosecutors dropped the charges, which can still be re-filed later.
“He did not do this,” Scott told The Seattle Times. “He didn’t start the fire. He didn’t plan with anyone else to start the fire.”
Hughes was held in police custody for a few weeks longer than Chism, and charges were officially dropped by Skagit County prosecutors August 18.
“The state has made a determination that there is currently insufficient information to file charges in Superior Court at this time,” prosecutor Rosemary Kaholokula told GoSkagit.com in an email.
Hughes and Chism were former tenants of a property owned by landlord Bryan Bachofer and Starr, but court documents state they were evicted five days earlier and had been living in a tent. Bachofer accused Hughes of threatening to burn down their home in the days that led up to their eviction.
Here’s what you need to know about Hughes, Chism and the case:
1. The Children Were Trapped on the 2nd Story After Starr Fell out of the Window When She Tried to Save Them
According to the probable cause affidavit, emergency personnel responded to a report of a fire at the home on Bay View Road in Skagit County around 2:35 a.m. on July 15. The call was placed by a neighbor, who said that the house was “fully engulfed” in flames and the people inside were screaming for help. Another call from a different neighbor informed authorities that there were children in the home.
Once deputies arrived on scene, they made contact with the homeowners, Bachofer and Starr. Both of them had visible injuries including “severe burns.” They told emergency crews that their two children were still inside of the house. In addition to the children, an adult roommate named Jacob Motz was inside the home and was injured.
According to the document, Vachofer and Motz said everyone was asleep when Motz woke up to the sound of fire crackling. As he looked around, he saw fire throughout the home coming from the porch area. Motz told police he was “positive” that the fire was started from the outside and was moving inside. When he noticed the blaze, he tried to put it out while Starr ran upstairs to assist the children. But by the time the two male adults reached the first floor of the home, it was fully engulfed in flames and they were all unable to get back upstairs, exiting the house through the first floor and leaving Starr and the children on the second.
Starr, inside the children’s rooms, opened a second-story window so they could try and escape. Tragically, she fell out of the window and onto the ground and her children were unable to escape.
A friend has set up a GoFundMe account in honor of the family. In one day, it raised almost $5,000 of its initial $15,000 goal.
“(Starr and Bachofer) will be facing unimaginable pain and sorry,” GoFundMe organizer Tamara Carlson wrote. “They’ve lost everything and will be facing unimaginable grief, medical recovery, medical bills and the rebuilding of their lives.”
To donate to the cause, click here.
2. Bachofer Told Police Right Away He Suspected Hughes & Chism Committed Arson
When being interviewed by police, Bachofer said that he suspected Hughes and Chism were the culprits of starting the fire. He said that the couple were evicted from the home and moved out just days earlier on July 11.
In the week leading up to the eviction, Bachofer told police that Hughes had been threatening him and was acting violent. At one point, Bachofer said Hughes threatened him by saying she would “sue (him) or burn (his) house down.”
Read the probable cause affidavit in the document below:
On Facebook, an account under the name Kimberly Hughes had a series of posts early in the morning July 7 asking friends for advice.
“If someone were to continuously go out of their way to f*** with you when you’ve done nothing but be helpful and respectful to them. How would you go about getting revenge?” she wrote.
In the comment section of the post, Hughes wrote that she wanted to get retribution. She implied that she had animosity against her former employer because of “refusing to pay for work that we’ve worked.”
PEOPLE Magazine spoke to a woman who said she was a friend of Hughes’, calling her “vengeful.”
“She will hold a grudge and she will snap,” Meagan Bellus told the magazine. “She posted on Facebook something like, ‘How do you get back at people now that you don’t have liability?’ Her last post was, ‘being homeless sucks.’”
3. Chism Worked for Bachofer, but Was Fired, Bachofer Said
Chism had worked for Bachofer, but was fired two weeks before the blaze, court documents stated.
One day after the couple were evicted from the home, they returned to “try to do laundry,” Bachofer told authorities. He said he contacted police and made them leave the property.
Just one day before the fire, Chism and Hughes were back on the property, this time to pick up Chism’s final paycheck, Bahofer told police.
Documents say Bachofer told police that Chism and Hughes were seen at the time in a blue Subaru Legacy, which they later located in Sedro-Woolley with a can of gas inside the vehicle, a probable cause statement said.
Chism and Hughes were found asleep inside a tent in the backyard of a home in Sedro Woolley and were taken into police custody without incident.
4. Hughes Has Posted About Her Landlords & Eviction on Social Media
Hughes posed on her Facebook about her ongoing eviction and situation with her landlords. She accused the couple of trying to kick them out of their home despite breaking “law after law.”
Another post to her Facebook page later the same day told Hughes’ side of the eviction. She wrote in the post that her and Chism were given 30 days to evict the premises and noted that they “need to get out of here ASAP.”
Hughes accused her landlord in the post of trying to have them sign a document that says they would have to “replace all their appliances if they break down.” She said that he “threatened to not pay” the couples’ paychecks.
Upon hearing the news that they were going to be evicted, Hughes wrote on Facebook that she threatened lawsuit against the landlord.
After they were evicted, Hughes posted another message saying that her and Chism were without a home.
Other posts to Hughes’ Facebook profile include many anti-Donald Trump posts in addition to some graphic art of death and murder.
5. Hughes’ Facebook Stated She Studied Nursing at a Community College
Before the Facebook page was taken down, it said Hughes studied nursing at a local community college. A post on Facebook said she was “planning on going back to school” to obtain her nursing degree.
“I’ve lived on less than 5000$ for the past decade,” she wrote in a comment.
“I’ve worked maybe 6-7 days all year, so year, not enough to save,” another comment said.
According to state business records, Starr Installation is owned by Starr and had been since May 18, 2015.
A search of the Washington state court records system shows there are numerous entries for Hughes and none for Chism — aside from the arson case.