ZANESVILLE, Ohio - A homeless man who was killed and then set on fire died of blunt force trauma, according to Licking County Coroner's Office.
The victim, who was 62-years-old, was found on Saturday night outside of a church in downtown Zanesville. The death was ruled a homicide, according to authorities.
At about 10:22 p.m. on Saturday, a 911 caller reported a burning body at the Central Presbyterian Church. Detective Sgt. Harry Taylor, with the Zanesville Police Department, said first responders found the victim on the front porch of the church engulfed in flames.
The victim, whose name has not been released, was pronounced dead at the scene.
On Saturday night, at about 10:45 p.m., Alisha Walter and a friend were driving home from work and saw a commotion on Sixth Street. At first, they thought the church was on fire.
Then Walter's friend realized they were looking at something much worse.
"She said, 'Oh my God, I think that's a person,'" Walter said.
The victim was wearing red pants and tennis shoes, she said, and he was located on the steps on the south side of the church. Walter did not see any fire, and she didn't know the victim had been on fire until Sunday morning.
Walter still couldn't believe it had happened, and it was only by chance she witnessed the scene at all.
"Normally, I wouldn't even go that way (home)," she said.
Keely Warden, executive director of Christ's Table, said she knew the victim, and he had been living locally on the streets for many years. He would stop at Christ's Table for coffee in the morning.
"He was just one of those people you choose to get close to," she said. "He was one of those people who made sure you got to your car safe late at night."
It was his choice, she said, to live on the streets, and as far as she knew, he didn't have any problems with anyone and nobody had problems with him.
"Everybody knew him," she said. "We never had any issues (at Christ's Table)."
Within the homeless network, people try to look out for each other, Warden said. But living on the streets is dangerous. Substance abuse, exposure to the elements and other people are all potential risks.
"It's not just eating a warm meal and finding a place to stay," she said. "It's watching your back."
She hopes that some good can come out of the victim's death by bringing awareness to the hazards of homelessness and inspiring community members to come together to help those in need. Assistance, however, is often more complex than people think, Warden said.
"Handing them a blanket is an easy thing to do," she said. "Tackling the problem is not easy."