FORT WAYNE, Ind.(WANE) — A Fort Wayne police officer described it as one of the worst things he’s seen in 27 years.
Police and firefighters were called to the 1000 block of Kinsmoor Avenue in Fort Wayne for what they thought was a trash fire. When they arrived, they discovered the body of 35-year-old Peter Kowal III on fire near the trash can.
Hours later the smell of gasoline is still in the air, debris from the fire remain, and for Shawn Cook the reality of what happened in this alley last night is unforgettable.
Cook lives a few yards from the fire. He said he was already working to put out that fire before first responders arrived.
Minutes earlier he was sitting in his living room when he noticed, what he described as “a big flash and high flames” in the alley. He said he went outside to check it out and called 911.
“I noticed a guy lying next to the fire,” he said. “I went and got a fire extinguisher and tried to put him out. When I got up there and got the flames off of him I realized there was no saving him. He was already gone.”
Another neighbor, Micheal Hill, came out to see what the commotion was about, and what he saw was horrifying. Soon police, and firefighters, and EMS workers arrived. Meanwhile, Hill is still trying to process what happened.
“It was just terrifying that something like this would happen in my backyard,” he said. “I just couldn’t believe somebody would pick our neighborhood to use to burn a body.”
Still, he’s grateful for the heroic actions of his neighbor.
“That’s another person that cares about another person no matter who they are,” he said. “We need more of that in the world nowadays.”
Cook said he was just trying to help in any way he could.
“At the very least, if I couldn’t save his life, I could keep houses from getting caught on fire,” he said. “And if there was a crime maybe it will preserve some of the evidence that might be there.”
Investigators have not been able to determine how the man ended up in the alley.
Police and fire are working closely with the Allen county Coroner’s Office to figure out what happened.