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Bed, heaters found in vacant storefront where women found

Space wasn't permitted for remodeling, Allen County official says.

Friday, January 25, 2013 - 9:21 am

Authorities are awaiting test results to determine what caused the death of a 33-year-old Fort Wayne woman who was found Wednesday afternoon inside a vacant southeast storefront where a county official said a bed and heaters were found.

The Allen County Coroner’s Office identified Dana M. Gersper as the woman who was pronounced dead at about 2:35 p.m. in a strip mall in the 4300 block of South Anthony Boulevard. The coroner’s office did not say how Gersper died, listing her cause and manner of death as “pending” Thursday in a statement.

Another woman, who has not been named, also was found inside the storefront and taken to a hospital in serious condition, police said. Police said late Wednesday they did not suspect foul play in the incident.

Police first searched the area around the shopping plaza at about 1:10 p.m. after receiving an anonymous call in which the caller reported one “dead body and possibly another” across from the nearby Belmont Beverage store at 4308 S. Anthony, a police spokeswoman has said.

Officers initially did not find anyone in the strip mall but went back to the area and found the women at about 2:08 p.m. after receiving a second call from a neighboring business owner, police said. The business owner also reported a “strong odor” in the vacant storefront, but firefighters did not immediately detect the source of the smell.

Although it was still unclear this morning why the women were in the vacant area, an Allen County official said building inspectors found a bed and three gas-powered heaters inside.

Assistant Building Commissioner Roger Clark said inspectors found a propane space heater and two kerosene heaters in the vacant store. They also found signs of a kerosene spill on some carpet, and a bed in one corner, he said.

A neighboring business owner has told authorities he was planning to renovate the space into a convenience store, but Clark said the business owner did not have a permit, and inspectors found no visible signs of remodeling.

“There was no indication inside that it was being used for anything other than a storage unit,” Clark said.

Clark said the propane heater showed no signs of recent use. One of the kerosene heaters also appeared unused.