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Church of Christ fire

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News Dickinson, 58602
The Dickinson Press
(701) 225-4205 customer support
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

Members of Dickinson's Church of Christ are brimming with positivity after arson left much of the building's interior in shambles Thursday morning.

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Church of Christ preacher Kenneth Anderson and his wife Dr. Patricia Anderson live next door to the church and as Kenneth was preparing to remove snow he noticed smoke and called 911.

Dickinson resident Joshua Whitworth, 21, was arrested at about noon while entering a north Dickinson strip mall. He was charged with burglary, arson and possession of stolen property, according to the Dickinson Police Department.

"Whitworth entered the building, sometime early in the morning to get out of the cold," Sgt. Dave Wilkie said. "In the process of burglarizing the place, then he decided to burn the evidence."

The fire started in a southwest corner office, Dickinson Fire Department Chief Bob Sivak said.

"It spread out of that room from the point of view that it broke through the window and once it broke through the window, it penetrated the attic by burning through the soffit on the outside of the building," Sivak said.

On the main floor, the fire was contained to the one room.

"But once the fire penetrated the attic, it spread throughout the attic area, not the entire attic, but a large portion of it," Sivak said.

Church member Sherry Adams, whose husband Dean Adams is a preacher at the church, said Whitworth allegedly turned on all stove burners and left them on high.

Sivak declined comment on the oven. DPD officials were unavailable for comment Thursday evening.

Whitworth allegedly pulled the cover off the thermostat and maxed it out, Sivak said.

Whitworth also allegedly stole money and other items from the church before setting paper on fire to ignite the building, Wilkie said.

Sherry Adams and several other members said Whitworth stole $50.

"All that work for $50," Kenneth Anderson said.

When police interviewed Whitworth, he allegedly confessed to starting the fire, Capt. Joe Cianni said.

Hillside Baptist Church also ignited Thursday morning, but the incidents are not believed to be related, Cianni said.

"When we were responding to the Hillside Baptist Church fire call, a member of the general public called and stated they saw someone on foot leaving that general area," Cianni said. "Initially we thought the two were related, but after investigation at the Hillside Baptist Church that was revealed that it was more than likely a result of a faulty furnace."

Cianni said the DPD is greatly appreciative to the public for its vigilance.

"Without a cooperative effort between the citizens and the police department, things like this sometimes go unsolved," Cianni said.

Opened in the late 80s, the Adams are the only founding members still at the church.

The church's younger members are having the toughest time coping with the incident, Sherry Adams said.

"We have a lot of young adults that used to live here ... and they're hearing about it and so it's like their church home is burnt and they're having a hard time with that," Adams said.

However, Patricia Anderson said the fire will not disrupt church services.

The Anderson's have offered to host this Sunday's services in their home, located at 801 14th St. E.

A Sunday Bible study class will be held from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. and a worship service from 11 a.m. to noon, Sherry Adams said. Evening worship will also be held from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

"We believe the church is the people," Patricia Anderson said. "This is just a building. It's there for our convenience. You're not going to burn down the people."

"We're more like a family and we'll get through this because the church is our people," Sherry Adams said.

As the sun set and curious onlookers drove by, church members surveyed interior damage. A damage estimate has not been determined.

The building smelled of stale bonfire. The ground squished with wet insulation and fire fighting foam.

A young girl sobbed as she absorbed the surroundings.

Many song books, Bibles and chairs were lost. Photographs remained intact on a west wall.

"The most irreplaceable thing in here is that green shag carpet in there from my folks' house," church member Scott Olin said with a lighthearted laugh.

Whitworth also apparently drank grape juice out of the church's fridge, Sherry Adams said.

"We don't have wine, just grape juice -- such a disappointment," she said with a giggle.

The coincidence of two church fires is nearly uncanny and Sivak cites it as "an extremely strange coincidence."

"This department is amazing," Sivak said. "To be on site at a general alarm fire, receive a call for another general alarm, split our resources in half and handle both fires is a real testament to this department's training and ability."

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