VALDOSTA -- A retired Valdosta State University professor apparently set fire to his residence and shot himself in the head early Tuesday morning, according to a joint investigation by the Valdosta Police and Fire departments and the Lowndes County Coroner.

Frank Marinelli, 59, died shortly before 2 a.m. Tuesday of "a contact gunshot wound of the head via the right temple. The manner of death is suicide," said Charles Exum, county coroner. "He set the house on fire and then shot himself with a handgun."

Valdosta firefighters responded to a fire call at Marinelli's 2214 White Oak Drive residence, at 1:55 a.m. to find a fully involved blaze.

Battalion Chief John Wisenbaker with the VFD said an initial search of non-burning parts of the home found no one, but firefighters found Marinelli's body in the living room on a secondary search of the premises.

Valdosta Police Chief Frank Simons said the coroner's report was consistent with preliminary results of the police department's investigation.

"We discovered the body of Mr. Marinelli deceased in the house. There was a fire of suspicious origin that we are currently looking into," he said.

The presence of accelerants at the scene, in this case gasoline, prompted a closer look, Simons said. An autopsy was performed Tuesday at the Moultrie state crime lab, and local authorities were awaiting the official report.

Marinelli, who lived alone, taught abnormal psychology for 20 years and was highly involved with the clinical psychology/counseling program at VSU until his December 2000 retirement.

Dr. Bob Bauer, head of the Psychology Department in the University's College of Education, said the University mourned the unfortunate loss.

"The department and the VSU learning community are certainly saddened by (Marinelli's) death," he said. "He was particularly involved with the master's of science program, and he was a licensed psychologist in the state of Georgia. We are all just shocked by his death."

To contact reporter Bill Roberts, please call 244-3400, ext. 245.

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