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What Exactly Happened in the Ocean City Church Fire?

2 Written by: | Monday, Dec 02, 2013 10:03am

Screen shot 2013-12-02 at 9.01.27 AM

There’s a whole lot that’s fishy about the fire that destroyed an Episcopal church in Ocean City last week. If you haven’t heard, the church caught on fire when a man who was himself on fire (!?) ran into the rectory of St. Paul’s by the Sea last Tuesday morning. It only gets stranger from there.

According to the Huffington Post, the man — who has since been identified as John Sterner, 56 — was screaming for help as he ran into the church. He then hugged a female food pantry volunteer, setting her on fire, too. (She survived, and is currently recovering at Johns Hopkins Bayview.) Although some attempt was made to help the man, the fire quickly spread to the building. The church’s pastor, Reverend David Dingwall, was killed in the blaze.

“This is just such a bizarre incident,” Reverend Heather Cook of the Episcopal Diocese of Easton told WJZ. “It’s bad enough to lose somebody, but right before Thanksgiving through a bizarre kind of fire, people are stunned. It’s not just the parish. It’s the whole Ocean City community. People are aghast.”

No word yet on how Sterner caught on fire, or any other explanation for this strange and saddening incident.

Leave a Reply

  • Millicent

    If I am not mistaken, the rector of the St Paul’s by the Sea in Ocean City, Rev David Dingwall, was getting ready for a program that his church provides to feed the hungry. This is something that his church does on a regular basis, but they were particularly busy as it was the week they would prepare the Thanksgiving meal. I believe that John Sterner was a man who had partaken of the meal service on many occasions. Clearly, he was mentally ill, as he set himself on fire and went into the building with gasoline and “embraced” a volunteer, Dana Truitt, setting her on fire as well. The rector died of smoke inhalation, and John Sterner died of his injuries as well. At last count, Dana was still in the hospital in critical condition. I don’t think it is so much a “bizarre incident,” as it is a sad comment on the current state of mental health care, especially for the indigent. John Sterner was a man who desperately needed medical care. I pray for the families of all three of the victims, and I hope the incident will open the dialogue about how we as a society can effectively and humanely care for the mentally ill. David Dingwall will be remembered as a man who died in the service of others, as his congregation works through their grief and endeavors to rebuild their building and their trust.

    • Susan Dunn

      Thanks, M., for more info on a distressing event. You are right about the current state of mental health care in our society. It’s too bad that is takes a tragic event such as this one to remind us that we need to address the problem now.

      The whole incident is so very sad.



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