Members of a Lutheran congregation gave spontaneous testimonials Sunday to their retired pastor who died in a college dormitory where more than 100 people were sickened by a carbon monoxide leak.
“What I missed when we sang that first song was Pastor Vierling. He led us,” Cheryl Mertz told the 35 worshippers at Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church, her voice cracking.
The Rev. Walter J. Vierling, 91, was found dead Friday morning, as emergency officials helped people staying in a Roanoke College dormitory suffering from nausea, dizziness and headaches. His official cause of death has not been determined.
A total of 114 people were taken to two hospitals. An elderly woman admitted in critical condition was the only one still hospitalized Sunday, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Vierling’s three children expressed shock at their father’s death.
“I drove him there,” daughter Corbin Vierling said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I left him there healthy and happy.”
Vierling and most of those sickened by the carbon monoxide were attending a church conference at the college. Also affected were teenagers in an Upward Bound program.
Investigators are focusing on a gas hot water heater as the possible source of the carbon monoxide leak.
Vierling was active and robust, his children said. He led the church service last Sunday and frequently preached at churches in several communities in the Blue Ridge Mountains area.
Vierling had walked more than a quarter-mile in a Relay for Life fundraiser in June, and was planning a camping trip with his daughter, they said. He also regularly read to second-graders at an elementary school and worked crossword puzzles almost daily.
“He was not done,” Corbin Vierling said of her father.