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Duluth fire victim works as advocate for families

Lisa Kaczke

Jaclyn Arnold, the Duluth woman found severely burned in the city’s Fond du Lac neighborhood on Thursday, was a new Duluth resident who began working as an advocate for marginalized families in the community earlier this year.

“She was new to the community, but really a gift to have here,” said Beth Olson, Arnold’s supervisor and executive director at First Witness Child Advocacy Center in Duluth.

Arnold, 24, remained in critical condition at a Minneapolis hospital on Friday afternoon as a criminal investigation continued, Deputy Chief Laura Marquardt said.

In an update posted on a Go Fund Me page for Arnold, her coworker Laura Gapske wrote that Arnold has “full thickness burns over 85% of her body” and is sedated in a burn intensive care unit in Minneapolis.

Arnold was hired this past spring to work as a community advocate for Heart for the People, a program that is overseen by First Witness in partnership with Indigenous Peoples Circle and the Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse.

Heart for the People works with families who have either lost custody of their children or are at risk of losing custody through child protection or family court and have experienced other traumas, such as domestic violence. The program works mainly with Native American families and families of color. Many of the parents in the program were removed from their homes when they were children as well. The goal of the program is to support families as they go through the system, to retain their children in a safe environment and break the generational cycle of having children in out-of-home placements, Olson said.

Olson said Arnold was hired because of her work ethic and compassion for families and coworkers.

“She is incredibly giving and compassionate and gave that to everybody. She was extremely passionate and a hard worker on behalf of the families that she worked with and has been widely respected by her peers for those reasons,” Olson said.

First Witness provided support and counseling to its staff on Friday. The agency is notifying the families that Arnold worked with and also offering support to those families. They’re also providing traditional healers for Native American families, which is also Arnold’s tradition as a Native American, Olson said.

“Everyone is just reeling in shock and angry and sad, and nobody really has any answers. That’s always a hard place to be in,” Olson said.

Arnold was found on fire at 11501 Highway 23, near Lake Superior College’s Fire Training Center, about 2 p.m. Thursday. A passerby saw the woman on fire on Highway 23 and extinguished the fire.

Police said they are treating the case as a criminal investigation, but have not released any further details on the incident. Anyone with information is asked to call the Violent Crimes Unit at (218) 730-5050 or call 911.