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Beloved Oklahoma City bookstore owner found dead in building described as a “nice soul”

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- A community is mourning the loss of a local bookstore owner following a fire that police believe was set on purpose.

Fire crews responded to a fire at 30 Penn Books at the intersection of N.W. 30th and Pennsylvania Ave. around 4 p.m. on Thursday.

Firefighters were able to contain most of the fire to the main section of the bookstore.

Once inside, crews found a man’s body under a pile of books.

Man's body found burned inside bookstore

People around the community tell News 4 the victim was 66-year-old Kelly Hays, the owner of the bookstore.

"The people around here that used him for buying books, older books, some of them probably don't even know what has happened yet,” Fred Pahlke, the owner of the building, said.

Pahlke said Hays rented the space from him for 14 years, until his life was taken too soon on Thursday.

His body was found buried beneath a pile of books.

"Anytime we have a fatality inside a building, it's our policy to have the Oklahoma City Police Department Homicide Unit to investigate that," Batt. Chief Mike Walker said.

Man's body found burned inside bookstore

Police believe the fire was set on purpose, which is tough news to hear for people who knew him best.

"Very nice man, real nice soul," Pahlke said.  "He had one of the best older bookstores in this part of the, probably this part of the state, because he had all types of books. Books that range from 25 cents of upwards to a couple thousand dollars.”

Pahlke said he was well-known and loved around the community.

Man's body found burned inside bookstore

"It was a love that he had because he had been an attorney and he may have also been a judge for a short period of time, but he retired from that and just wanted to run a bookstore,” Pahlke said.

Pahlke said he hopes Hays’ memory lives on.

"Yeah, there's damage and there are lots of books that are burned and got wet but that's really nothing important. It's Kelly's life that was important,” Pahlke said.

If you have any information on the case, call the Homicide tip line at (405) 297-1200.