COLUMBUS, Ohio — Members of Southard Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio are grieving after learning that their pastor had been found dead in his home on Tuesday.
“It was definitely a homicide,” Columbus Police Detective David Sicilian told the Columbus Dispatch. “He was killed at the hands of someone else.”
Joseph McDowell, 81, was found after firefighters responded to a call about an explosion and blaze inside of a garage that had been converted into an apartment. The garage sits behind McDowell’s house.
Emergency responders soon checked on McDowell, but found him deceased in his bedroom. A man and his girlfriend who had been inside the garage apartment at the time of the blast were transported to OSU Wexner Medical Center where they were treated for serious burns. It is not clear why Ricky Skinner, 42, and Jamie Raines, 40, were inside of the building.
Neighbor Rose Dailey told the Columbus Dispatch that Skinner, who lives in the neighborhood, pounded on her door Tuesday morning, asking her to call 911, exclaiming “I’m on fire!”
She said that 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.” He is currently in critical condition in the hospital’s intensive care unit.
Police state that they do not yet know whether the fire and McDowell’s death are connected, but do believe the pastor was murdered. They also believe that McDowell had been killed some time before the fire broke out.
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,” she said. “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.”
Member Bob Alford provided a similar characterization.
“He loved everybody and he helped everybody in this neighborhood,” he said. “Everybody liked him because he was there to give them a hand at whatever they might need.”
Hendricks outlined that life will be difficult without their pastor, but believes that the church will keep its doors open somehow. The assistant pastor had died just five months ago from a heart attack.
The incident follows two other recent headlines surrounding violence toward pastors. As previously reported, Rudy Trujillo, the pastor of Faith Center in San Fernando, California 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.