June 23, 2018
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Former pastor’s son set fire to Winterport church, himself

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

WINTERPORT, Maine — A young man found burned to death outside a church on Thursday doused the inside of the building and then himself with a flammable liquid and lit a fire in what police have ruled a suicide.

Wilbur “Wes” Strout, 20, of Hancock started the blaze inside the Calvary Apostolic Church on U.S. Route 1A in Winterport, according to police, and later jumped out a second floor window as the building burned.

Strout’s charred body was discovered by firefighters who responded to reports of smoke around 10 a.m. Thursday, May 5, designated as the National Day of Prayer.

Strout was the son of the church’s former pastor, according to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

The church, on Route 1A a few miles north of the Winterport town center, was in flames by the time firefighters arrived. Hours later, the entire structure was destroyed.

As investigators sorted through the blackened rubble Friday morning, officials with the State Medical Examiner’s Office worked to positively identify Strout’s body.

Investigators had suspected that the victim was Strout after they found his car parked in the church’s parking lot and discovered a journal and Bible inside. According to McCausland, Strout’s journal contained several rambling entries but nothing to indicate why he would have set fire to the church or to himself.

McCausland said investigators determined that Strout broke into the church through a rear window sometime Thursday morning and spread a flammable liquid throughout the worship area and in front of the altar. He then doused himself and lit the fire, which spread quickly throughout the expansive church.

At some point, Strout tried to leave the building through an upstairs window. His body was badly burned when firefighters arrived.

On Friday, with help from one of the State Fire Marshal Office’s arson dogs, investigators discovered a number of areas in the rubble where evidence of a flammable liquid, or accelerant, was found.

McCausland indicated that Strout had lived with his father in North Carolina until recently when the young man moved back to Maine. He was a member of the Calvary Apostolic Church, a United Pentecostal church that serves as many as 200 congregants in Winterport and surrounding towns.

Previously published stories in the Bangor Daily News dating back to the 1990s referenced the Rev. Wilbur Strout as the pastor of Calvary Apostolic Church. Additionally, information from the website for the Heavenview Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., identified the Rev. Wilbur Strout as having a son, Wes, who was born in 1991.

The investigation into the fire is considered complete. The church’s current pastor, the Rev. Tom Channel, who declined Thursday to talk about what happened, could not be reached for comment Friday.

It was not clear whether the church will be rebuilt or where its congregants will meet in the immediate future.

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