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Man who entered Maryland church on fire had run-ins with police

Posted at 11:29 PM, Dec 03, 2013

(CNN) — The Maryland man who ran into a church pantry while on fire and caused the death of a pastor had been evaluated for mental issues, Ocean City police said Tuesday.

John Raymond Sterner, 59, also died in the fire at St. Paul’s by the Sea Episcopal Church last week. Ocean City police Capt. Michael Colbert told reporters that Sterner was seen on surveillance video pumping gas into a red container at a Shell station about a quarter mile from the church. About 25 minutes later, he doused himself, ignited the fuel and walked into the church building.

The church pastor, the Rev. David Dingwall, was found unconscious on the second floor of the church amid “heavy smoke and heat conditions,” authorities said. He later died at a hospital.

A third victim, a woman who was in the pantry, remains in the hospital with critical injuries, authorities said.

Colbert said it didn’t appear that Sterner had targeted a particular person and his motive may never be known.

CNN affiliate WMDT reported that police had twice taken Sterner to Peninsula Regional Medical Center for psychiatric evaluation this year after they had run-ins with him during which he showed signs of “emotional and mental crisis.”

The mayor’s office said on its website that there was significant damage to the first- and second-floor office areas.

“Our community has experienced unimaginable tragedy,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “Our community, as a whole, mourns the loss of Father David. He will be forever remembered for making Ocean City a better place.”

The beach town is a family-friendly weekend destination in the summer for much of the Washington area.