Man On Fire Runs Into Church; Pastor Killed In Blaze

12/01/2013 01:19 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Parishioners at a church in Maryland are mourning the death of their popular pastor after a man on fire ran into rectory and set the place aflame.

The three-alarm blaze killed Rev. David Dingwall, pastor of St. Paul's By The Sea Episcopal in Ocean City, Maryland, reports the Associated Press.

The man who caused the blaze has been identified as John Sterner, 56, according to the AP. Sterner, who later succumbed to his injuries, may have been covered in a flammable substance when he entered the St. Paul's rectory on Tuesday morning, and the accelerant could have aided the quick spread of the blaze.

“It’s quite scary and it’s very sad for this time of year to have your church go up and especially have people injured,” church member Kevin Hall told local CBS affiliate WJZ.

Witnesses claim that Sterner ran into St. Paul's food pantry "screaming for help," according to WJZ. Sterner then hugged a female food pantry volunteer, reportedly causing her clothes to catch on fire also. That volunteer, who is currently recovering in an area hospital, has not yet been named.

"This is just such a bizarre incident," Rev. 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."

Pastor Dingwall has ministered to the congregation of St. Paul's since 2005, according to the Gannett News Service. He leaves behind a wife and three children.

The fire ultimately caused damage to the rectory of the Ocean City church, but did not seriously damage the sanctuary, according to local ABC affiliate WJLA.

"I am heartbroken," church organist Shirley Hailey told the station. "I am sick."

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