Police stated the death of 80-year-old Joseph McDowell, pastor of Southard Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio, was definitely a homicide.
Church members are grieving after learning their pastor was found dead in his home last week.
McDowell "was killed at the hands of someone else," Columbus Police Detective David Sicilian told the Columbus Dispatch. He was found after firefighters responded to a call about an explosion and blaze inside of a garage that had been converted into an apartment, behind McDowell's house. Emergency responders found him deceased in his bedroom.
Police stated the fire and homicide are not related. They also believe McDowell had been killed some time before the fire broke out.
Ricky Skinner, 42, and Jamie Raines, 40, who were inside the garage apartment at the time of the blast, were transported to OSU Wexner Medical Center, according to Christian News, and were treated for serious burns. It is not clear why they were inside the building, however neighbors said McDowell had been allowing Skinner to live at the rear of his property at no charge out of kindness.
McDowell's neighbor Rose Dailey told the Columbus Dispatch that Skinner pounded on her door Tuesday morning, asking her to call 911, exclaiming "I'm on fire!"
She said she believes McDowell had felt sympathy for Skinner, an ex-convict who "suffered from Hepatitis C and was telling people that he only had months to live." Police said Raines was in stable condition Tuesday but that Skinner was fighting for his life. On Wednesday, a hospital spokeswoman said neither Raines nor Skinner was in the hospital's public directory, which could mean they no longer were in the hospital or did not want their conditions released.
Church treasurer Polly Hendricks told WCMH-TV that there was no reason for anyone to hurt McDowell: "He didn't do nothing to nobody for anybody to do anything to him. I just hope they catch who done it."
"He said he had the best neighbors," Hendricks stated. "He preached about love. He preached about compassion. He thought all his neighbors loved him."
Southard Baptist Church member Bob Alford said McDowell loved and helped everybody in the neighborhood. "Everybody liked him because he was there to give them a hand at whatever they might need."
McDowell had served in U.S. Army. He is survived by son, Randy.
Hendricks said the Southard Baptist Church assistant pastor had died just five months ago from a heart attack.
This Ohio incident follows two other recent headlines surrounding violence toward pastors. Rudy Trujillo, the pastor of Faith Center in San Fernando, Calif., was attacked last month by a former member and suffered a broken hip that required replacement. Herbert Valero, 68, of Victory Outreach Church in Salinas was stabbed to death just days before as he stepped outside of his home to pray with a member.
Both pastors had been working to reach gang members and drug addicts, reports Christian News.