OCEAN CITY — Ocean City officials on Monday confirmed the double fatal fire last week at a historic downtown church has been classified by the Fire Marshal’s Office as “incendiary” and the deceased suspect likely used an accelerant on his body.
Around 9:25 a.m. last Tuesday, Ocean City Communications received a call in reference to a fire at the St. Paul’s by the Sea on 3rd Street and Baltimore Ave. The Ocean City Fire Department responded and first-arriving units found fire coming from the church rectory.
Preliminary findings by investigators indicated a suspect, later identified as John Raymond Sterner, 56, of Ocean City, entered the building with a significant amount of fire on and about his person, which quickly spread to the structure.
Sterner, who is no stranger to law enforcement according to court records, was found deceased inside the building by first-arriving firefighters. The fire also claimed the life of St. Paul’s by the Sea Pastor David Dingwall and critically injured a female victim.
The investigation has determined that the fire originated on Sterner and spread to the structure. Investigators suspect Sterner used an accelerant on his body and the cause of the fire has been classified by the Ocean City Fire Marshal’s Office as “incendiary.”
However, the Ocean City Police Department’s investigation is ongoing. The preliminary findings and results of the autopsy will be announced at a media briefing at the Public Safety Building on Tuesday morning.
Mayor Rick Meehan, Fire Chief Chris Larmore, OCPD Chief Ross Buzzuro, Ocean City Fire Marshal David Hartley and OCPD Captain Michael Colbert are expected to attend. More information will be provided by The Dispatch on Tuesday as it becomes available.
Meanwhile, funeral arrangements for Rev. Dingwall were announced over the weekend. A requiem mass will be held at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church at 103rd Street at 2 p.m. on Tuesday. About 3:45 p.m., a procession will leave St. Peter’s in Ocean City for the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Worcester Parish Cemetery, in Berlin where burial rites will take place around 4:15 p.m. A reception will follow at the Atlantic Hotel in Berlin at 4:45 p.m.