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ATLANTA -- Rev. Arthur Allen, controversial pastor of the House of Prayer, died Monday afternoon in a house fire in Atlanta according to the Atlanta Medical Examiner's office.

Allen, 81, had spent two years in prison, from 2003 to2005,for having children at his church whipped with belts.

The charges included child cruelty and aggravated assault stemming for activities at the House of Prayer in northwest Atlanta in 2001. Allen was accused of ordering church members to discipline children with whips and belts in front of the congregation when they misbehaved.

The spankings left welts on two boys at the church.

Hours after hearing news of Allen's death, two former church members spoke with 11Alive's Blayne Alexander.

"My heart goes out to those that are confused now," Mathias Hardeman said, referring to current House of Prayer members.

"Because they were taught that as long as this person is here, it's like God is here with them on earth."

In November 2012, police launched another investigation into the church and accusations of abuse there. Some of those who came forward with stories of abuse were among those who were children at the time of the initial investigation into the church.

By the end of November, a new arrest in the case -- David Lee Duncan, who was arrested on child molestation charges. Duncan was one of the children involved in the 2001 incidents.

According to the Atlanta Fire Department, six people were in the home at the time of the fire and five of them were children. All of the children were able to escape.

Last year, 11Alive's DeMarco Morgan investigated the accusations in an in-depth story - Watch the story here.

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* Pastor in cruelty case out of prison
* House of Prayer under investigation, again
* APD investigating House of Prayer abuse of children
* Arrest in House of Prayer investigation
* From victim to suspect: A closer look at David Duncan Jr.

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