An unidentified man, said to be a 58-year-old Air Force veteran, set himself on fire on the grounds of the Georgia State Capitol on Tuesday. According to local reports, the man did so to protest his treatment by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

According to statements provided by the Georgia State Patrol, the unidentified man lived in the nearby Atlanta suburbs. He approached the capitol building wearing a home made incendiary device, then covered himself in some sort of flammable fluid and ignited the volatile mix. Engulfing himself in flames, he burned an estimated 85-90 percent of his body before a nearby state trooper was able to put out the flames with a fire extinguisher.

“It looks like a veteran that was disgruntled with the VA did a personal protest in front of the Capitol which involved gasoline and some fireworks,” Commissioner Mark McDonough of the Georgia Department of Public Safety said to reporters at the scene.

Although his identity has not been revealed, some details have made their way to the public. The man apparently drove a Nissan Sentra with a sign placed in the windshield. The sign included a phone number and instructions to call it, though law enforcement has asked that the number not be publicized or called, for fear that it could potentially cause the detonation of hidden explosives after the man’s death.

The detonation of the fireworks attached to the man alerted nearby law enforcement, who were participating in a press conference about Georgia’s new “hands free” law, barring the use of cell phones while driving. Troopers participating in the conference dropped what they were doing and rushed toward the sound of the explosions.

The bomb squad joined a wave of first responders descending on the scene, using dogs and robots to look for signs of any other explosive devices that could shift the classification of Tuesday’s incident away from troubling tragedy and toward a terror attack, but it appears the man was intent on only doing harm to himself as a part of his broader statement. Currently, no information has been revealed regarding the specific circumstances of his care at the V.A., nor is it clear if he had been struggling with mental health issues leading up to Tuesday’s dramatic events.

Once the flames were put out, the man was rushed to Grady Memorial Hospital where he is listed in critical condition.

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In some parts of the world, self immolation has come to be known as a powerful form of tragic self expression, with setting yourself on fire serving as a common form of the practice among Tibetans protesting for their freedom, as well as others that have hoped to use the dramatic imagery to draw attention to their own social or political causes. The United States has seen members of the veteran community harm themselves in protest of their treatment at the hands of the Department of Veteran Affairs before, but Tuesday may be among the most dramatic thus far.

 

Image courtesy of WikiMedia Commons