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Man sets himself on fire outside courthouse where Trump trial is being held

Warning: This article contains an image some may find disturbing.

A man set himself on fire Friday outside the courthouse where former President Donald Trump’s hush money trial is taking place.

The man, whom police identified as Maxwell Azzarello of St. Augustine, Fla., was in the designated protest area outside.

At a press conference later, the chief of department for the New York Police Department, Jeffrey B. Maddrey, told reporters that Azzarello walked into the center of the park, shuffled around his clothes, opened a backpack and took out and threw numerous pamphlets on the ground. He then pulled out a canister, poured a liquid accelerant on himself, lit himself on fire, fell on a police barrier and then fell to the ground.

It appeared to happen around the time that the jury for Trump’s trial was fully empaneled — with 12 jurors and six alternates selected to sit for a trial that’s expected to last about six weeks. It occurred around 1:50 p.m. ET just before the court took a lunch break.

New York City Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh told reporters that Azzarello was taken to the burn unit at Weill Cornell Medical Center. At the moment of the press conference, he was still alive but in critical condition.

Four police officers and one court officer sustained minor injuries from dealing with the fire, Kavanagh said.

Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny said Azzarello was born in 1987 and arrived in New York City earlier in the week. He said that family members police were in contact with after the incident were unaware that Azzarello was in New York. Kenny said Azzarello’s pamphlets seemed to be “propaganda-based” about Ponzi schemes and conspiracy theories.

Police said they don’t believe Azzarello was targeting any particular person or group.

Law enforcement deployed a bomb squad search team just in case, Deputy Commissioner of Operations Kaz Daughtry said, and no devices were found in the area.

A person lit themselves on fire near Manhattan Criminal Court on April 19, 2024 in New York.
A person lit themselves on fire near Manhattan Criminal Court on April 19, 2024 in New York.Andrew Bossone / NBC News

Three law enforcement sources told NBC News earlier that the man appears to have been a follower of some conspiracy theories and may have had emotional issues. He may have posted his intention to set himself on fire in advance, the sources said. 

Moments after setting himself on fire, the man was lying on the ground, burning. At times, he appeared to seize. Police tried to use a small fire extinguisher to put the fire out, but were unsuccessful. While still on fire, the man tried to sit up. Police then used a large extinguisher to put out the fire.

Image: Jury Selection Begins In Former President Donald Trump's New York Hush Money Trial
Paramedics attend to a person who lit themselves on fire near Manhattan Criminal Court on Friday in New York.Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images

A 73-year-old man from the Upper West Side, Dave, watched it happen. Dave said the person threw up a bundle of pamphlets, picked them up and threw them again.

“I heard this clattering,” he said. “That caught our attention. Then he pulled out a can.”

David said he saw the man begin to douse himself in something before taking out a lighter.

“There I thought, this could be awful,” he said. “I’m old enough to remember the Vietnam War.”

He said the person then set himself alight and was quickly engulfed in flames. The person didn’t make a sound as people around him looked on, horrified.

Image: Fire extinguishers are left at the park across from Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City after a man reportedly set himself on fire
Fire extinguishers are left at the park across from Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City after a man reportedly set himself on fire on Friday.Angela Weiss / AFP – Getty Images

Ed Quinn, a freelance photojournalist who lives in the East Village, said he was facing the court when: “I heard someone scream, ‘He’s going to light himself on fire.’” 

“I see him dumping gasoline on his face, very deliberately,” he said. “He had [a] gray t-shirt on. It soaked his face. It soaked his shirt. Boom, he went up.”

Quinn said it took the police about a minute to arrive. 

“Women were begging, screaming, put it out, put him out,” he said. 

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