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Man charged with arson after fire found burning inside Colonial Manor United Methodist Church


By Jessica MacAulay, Chase Morrison, Ryan Hughes

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    WEST DEPTFORD, New Jersey (KYW) — A man was arrested in connection with a fire that broke out at the Colonial Manor United Methodist Church in West Deptford Saturday morning, police said.

Brian Cannon, 44, was charged with three counts of arson and is currently being held at the Salem County Correctional Facility while he awaits a detention hearing, according to police.

“It breaks my heart. I still come up here once a week to play the piano for them,” said Donna Stemberger, who has been a member of the congregation for more than 60 years. “Why would you do that to something that was so helpful to the community?”

Just before 7 a.m. Saturday, West Deptford police and fire crews responded to the Colonial Manor United Methodist Church for a report of a building fire, officials said. Upon arrival, police said they found a fire blazing inside the church.

“They were just billowing out of the front of the top of the church, and there was smoke coming out of the doors too, it was scary,” said a neighbor, who did not want to be identified.

Crews from the Woodbury Fire Department, Westville Fire Department, Mantua Fire Department and Deptford Fire Department also responded to the fire scene and helped extinguish the blaze.

A firefighter was injured after he fell through a floor. He was taken to Crozer-Chester Medical Center and was later released.

Investigators are not revealing a motive for the fire. They believe Cannon was homeless, and the church helped him at one point.

“They feed families and also we had the Thrift Store, which was helping support our church, but also we were willing to give to anyone in need. If you need something we didn’t charge, we just would give it away,” Stemberger said.

The Thrift Store sustained most of the damage. The building also housed a food pantry, which supported 30-40 families each week. Thousands of dollars worth of food was also lost in the fire.

Crews were able to salvage the church’s original bell from the tower Saturday afternoon, and Stemberger said she’s thankful the flames didn’t spread to the building where the sanctuary is located.

“I’m grateful that it’s two separate buildings and the newer building, which I remember sitting under a tree and watching them build, is saved,” Stemberger said.

The pastor tells CBS News Philadelphia he is optimistic about getting the pantry and thrift shop back open as soon as possible.

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