Brenda Kambeitz was awakened in the middle of the night Saturday by a panicked call from her mother: The Port Angeles trailer where her sister, Valerie, lived with her husband and three young children was engulfed in flames.
Kambeitz, 37, got in the car with her sister, Ashley, and drove to the Welcome Inn trailer park where their mother, Deborah Borden, also lived. “We went right over to where my mom was, and we saw it was totally engulfed,” Brenda Kambeitz said. As the trailer burned, her mother suffered a heart attack and had to be taken to the hospital, she said.
Authorities found the remains of four people in the burned trailer. While the identities haven’t been confirmed, police believe the dead are Valerie Kambeitz, 34, and her children: Lilly Kambeitz, 9; Emma Kambeitz, 6; and Jayden Kambeitz, 5, according to Port Angeles police. Not among them was Valerie’s husband of two months, Matthew T. Wetherington.
Police found Wetherington camping in a nearby park Saturday night and arrested him on suspicion of first-degree arson and four counts of first-degree murder. There are no other suspects.
Wetherington, 34, has a long criminal record, including convictions for child molestation, unlawful imprisonment, assault, attempted robbery, and burglary with sexual motivation. He is a registered sex offender. Wetherington was seen running from the scene just as the fire suddenly erupted, Port Angeles police reported.
The trailer was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived at about 2:30 a.m. and the fire had spread to another trailer and burned a vehicle. The firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze before it spread further.
A man living in the second trailer was able to crawl out of a window to safety as that structure was catching fire. No one else was in that trailer.
Concerning the victims’ identification, Port Angeles Deputy Chief of Police Jason Viada said in a telephone interview Sunday morning, “As for forensically 100 percent confirmation, we don’t have that yet, but we are operating on the reasonable assumption that we know who they were.”
Valerie Kambeitz married Wetherington on May 4 in Clallam County, according to their marriage certificate. Before the marriage, some family members had misgivings about Wetherington.
“I hate that. I hate that I was right about him. I didn’t trust him,” Brenda Kambeitz said. “My negative feelings came along when I found out about his past. I didn’t agree [with the marriage] even though I didn’t have any signs. He treated them so good, it was just a gut feeling.
“I respected what she wanted, and because I didn’t see anything, I just let it be.”
Ashley Kambeitz said her sister seemed happier than she had ever seen her. “He never touched her inappropriately, her, or those kids,” she said. “I want to put that out there.”
The family moved to Port Angeles from Southern California in 1993. Valerie went through public schools in Port Angeles and also did some training in early childhood education at Peninsula College. She became a mother with a former boyfriend, having Lilly, Emma and Jayden before ending the relationship. “She was all about her kids,” Brenda Kambeitz said. “She was so loving. She was a good sister and a good daughter, a very caring person.”
In the shock that has followed, “The hardest part of all this is that he made her feel loved, and those kids feel loved,” Brenda Kambeitz said of Wetherington. “It was like day and night from before for her and the kids. She was so much happier. It makes it so puzzling. I don’t understand.”
Heather Waldron, a friend of Valerie Kambeitz from high school, remembered her as “the kindest-hearted person” who had lived a tough life, she said in an interview Sunday. “She was that person that if you needed something, she would help you,” she said. “Her kids were so sweet, they were like little angels. It’s not fair. It’s so not fair.”
Valerie had known Wetherington growing up, according to family members. The two had lost touch, then recently reconnected. “When she found out about his past he told her it wasn’t like it seemed, and she believed him,” said Brenda Kambeitz. “The rest of us didn’t agree, but we respected her wishes, and we didn’t see any abuse toward her or those kids.”
The two had recently experienced homelessness, camping and living in hotels, Brenda Kambeitz said. The trailer park was the first place they were able to afford.
Now the family wants to find the money to move their mother, who lives on a small income from Social Security, from her trailer, so she doesn’t have to look at the destruction where her daughter and grandchildren perished. “Because right outside her window is the reminder of what just happened.”
Wetherington is to appear before a Clallam County Superior Court judge on Monday at about 1 p.m.
A candlelight vigil for Valerie and her three children will be held at City Pier in Port Angeles at 5 p.m. Monday.
News researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.