OCEAN CITY, Md. — The pastor of St. Paul’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church died of injuries suffered early Tuesday after a man set himself ablaze in the building’s basement.
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Witnesses said the fire started when a man set himself on fire and entered the food bank housed in the Ocean City church’s basement. That man also died, and a woman suffered life-threatening injuries.
The Rev. David A. Dingwall died at Atlantic General Hospital, according to the Rev. Canon Heather Cook of the Episcopal Diocese of Easton, Md.
The man who reportedly started the fire, a client of the food pantry, has not been identified by authorities. His body was at the scene late Tuesday, being reviewed by a medical examiner, city spokeswoman Jessica Waters said.
A woman whom police have not identified was first taken to Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, then transferred to a burn unit at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, according to Ocean City Police spokeswoman Lindsay O’Neal.
“Whether it’s accidental or it’s criminal has not been determined at this time,” said Jessica Waters, a spokeswoman for Ocean City.
She said several witness statements have been taken, and authorities will take that into account as part of their investigation. Police urged the public to come forward with photo or video.
The fire reportedly began after someone ran into the church on fire, according to Cook.
“The fire started in the basement of the church offices in what’s called the Shepherd’s Crook food bank, where you can imagine they’ve been distributing a lot of food for the Thanksgiving holiday,” she said. “It’s a wooden church and it sounds like it caught fire very quickly.”.
After arriving on the scene around 9:25 a.M., Some first responders worked to control the fire while others placed the injured onto stretchers and ran them to nearby ambulances.
“Right now the church leaders are rather traumatized by this,” Cook said a few hours after the fire.
The church holds numerous community outreach events during the year, including a community meal on Thanksgiving and Christmas. During last year’s Christmas dinner, more than 75 church volunteers cooked and served dinner to 400 people at the congregation.
A native of Canada, Dingwall and his family moved to the Eastern Shore in 2003, and started work in 2005 at St. Paul’s, according to his biography on the church website.
The basement is home to the church’s Shepherd’s Crook ministry, which gives food and clothing to the needy.
“I saw some guy light himself on fire,” said Ben Minor, 20, of Ocean City. He was headed to the weekly distribution of food and clothing.
“I probably got to right there,” he said, pointing to a spot outside the entrance to City Hall, “and I saw the dude. All I saw was fire. Some guy was on fire, inside, downstairs where everybody was going to get food this morning. I don’t know who it was. I saw some guy on fire, and I saw smoke, and I turned around and went the other way.”.
Minor, who’s been coming to St. Paul’s since age 12, said it’s going to disrupt assistance to the homeless community.
“This is where most of the homeless people come to get food,” he said.
Mike Taylor, a volunteer at the food pantry, said the man on fire was a familiar face.
“I think all of us knew him, I don’t remember his name,” Taylor said. “They come in and they come through every day, wanting clothes or food. “.
Taylor said people typically line up an hour before the pantry opens, and it’s not unusual for church personnel or volunteers to open their doors if it’s cold outside.
“I’m still in shock, because this church helps out so many homeless and poor. Now you gotta wonder what everybody’s going to do. Unbelievable.”.
Don Bowden, 38, of Ocean City, is the general manager of the Monte Carlo Hotel, which is located directly across from the church. Bowden was in the hotel lobby when he saw what looked like thick fog rolling in suddenly. Then he realized it was smoke.
After arriving on the scene around 9:25 a.M., Some first responders worked to control the fire while others placed the injured onto stretchers and ran them to nearby ambulances. No firefighters were injured while extinguishing the three-alarm fire, said Ocean City Fire Department Spokesman Steve Price.
After the fire was out, during Dingwall’s hospitalization, a group gathered in a circle outside City Hall to pray for him. Bob Rothermel, a parishioner of the church, was at the scene trying to comprehend what happened.
“We’re just trying to make sense out of it as well,” he said. “I haven’t really been able to get my arms around it.”.
Shane also reports for The (Salisbury, Md.) Daily Times.