Lutherans and Roanoke College family gather to remember retired pastor

Salem, Va. (July 14, 2006) – Organizers of a Lutheran conference and members of the Roanoke College community gathered in Olin Hall this evening to recognize a retired pastor who died earlier today from possible exposure to carbon monoxide.

The Rev. Walter J. Vierling, 91, of Pearisburg, Va., passed away while staying at the college’s Sections residence halls. The retired pastor from the Giles Parish had been there with others attending the Power of the Spirit conference of the Virginia Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

“We appreciate the presence and love for one another shown here today,” said The Rev. R. Paul Henrickson, dean of the Roanoke College chapel, who opened the service. He also encouraged participants to call their families at home to let them know they were okay.

The Power of the Spirit is a three-day conference for Lutheran congregational leaders. More than 100 participants were staying in Sections along with a group of teenage girls who were on campus for a program called Upward Bound.

Dr. Sabine O’Hara, president of the College, flew back from Minnesota on Friday to attend the service.

“I want to thank all of you – the Roanoke College community, Salem Fire and EMS, Lewis Gale Medical Center and Carilion medical personnel – for the outstanding support to this community,” O’Hara said. “We’re profoundly grateful for the prayers, words of support and the care expressed.”

Early Friday morning, a build up of carbon monoxide was discovered in Sections, and 114 people showing possible symptoms of exposure were taken to area hospitals for evaluation. Of the 62 evaluated at Lewis Gale Medical Center in Salem, all were released by Friday evening except for five patients, all of whom have been upgraded to stable condition. All of the 49 people who had been evaluated at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital in Roanoke have been released. In addition, three members of the Salem EMS had been evaluated at a hospital as a precautionary measure.

An autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause of Vierling’s death. The investigation into the source of the carbon monoxide is continuing, and the City of Salem says it is focusing on a potential failure in the gas hot water system.

The Power of the Spirit conference will end as planned on Saturday. Participants were moved to the campus’ Caldwell, Allegheny and Ritter halls for Friday night. The 37 teenagers participating in Upward Bound had already gone home, as they were previously scheduled to do.

Media inquiries: 540-375-2282, Teresa Gereaux, director of public relations