A MAN donned a ‘USA’ t-shirt and lit himself on fire on the White House lawn late yesterday afternoon (US time), and was caught on video by horrified tourists appearing to calmly stroll through a park before cops extinguished the flames.
Witnesses saw the man erupt into a bright orange fireball at the Ellipse, a tourist-filled park that sits north of the Washington Monument, around 12:20 p.m.
“We saw this man,” Alina Berzins, 17, who was visiting the National Mall with her two cousins, said. “He starts running, and then we saw him covered in flames.”
Video shot by Berzins and posted to Twitter by her father shows the man, clad in black pants, covered head to toe in a giant gulf of flames as he takes a slow walk across the grass.
“According to my daughter…she just saw a person that was on fire running across the White House lawn,” the dad, Krisjan Berzins, tweeted. “Police and rescue have responded. They’re closing all surrounding streets right now.”
Officers are seen racing over to the man, including one armed with a red fire extinguisher, and police cruisers pulling up with lights flashing.
The man collapsed as he was covered with a plume of white foam, Alina Berzins said.
“Everyone was in shock,” she said. “I was in shock.”
Other witnesses said that the man was wearing a sweatshirt — despite the 90-degree heat — and carrying a suspicious black bag. The shirt had writing on it but the witnesses couldn’t make out what it said.
The man, who wasn’t immediately identified, was taken to the hospital with life-threatening injuries after suffering burns to 85 percent of his body, sources told TMZ.
A suspicious package that was on fire was also found in the park, near where the man was extinguished, leading some to wonder if the incident was an act of Islamic terrorism gone wrong.
In a tweet, the Secret Service confirmed the attempted self-immolation:
“At approximately 12:20 p.m. a man lit himself on fire on the Ellipse near 15th and Constitution Ave., Secret Service personnel are on scene assisting @NatlParkService and @usparkpolicepio in rendering first aid,” the law enforcement agency wrote.
Last month, a man in a motorized wheelchair set his jacket on fire outside the White House, prompting a security lockdown. He suffered non-life-threatening injuries.