Protester kills self in front of onlookers War opponent sets himself on fire and dies.

February 19, 1991|By Boston Globe

AMHERST, Mass. -- As people watched in horror, a man drenched his body with paint thinner, set himself on fire and burned to death in apparent protest of the U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf war.

Witnesses told police that the man, believed to be in his 20s, set down a sign saying "peace" before dousing himself yesterday with two gallons of the flammable liquid, igniting it with the second of two matches he lighted, and producing what one police officer called "a fireball" on the common in front of the town hall.

The man's identity was not released by Amherst police, who said an autopsy was planned today in Springfield. The Associated Press said a driver's license was taped to the "peace" sign.

"I heard this woman saying somebody is pouring gas all over himself," said Kenneth Albrecht of Belchertown, who was waiting for a bus. "I turned around, and the guy was engulfed in flames. I didn't know what to do. He was screaming."

"It was over in a matter of seconds," said one woman, who asked not to be identified.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Amherst Police Chief Donald N. Maia, who has been chief for 18 years in the college town that has been a center of war protest.

Several people used their coats to try to put out the fire. Police Officer Christopher Pronovost arrived quickly and put out the flames with a fire extinguisher from his cruiser.

It was over in perhaps two minutes.

The death occurred about 1:50 p.m. on the Amherst common, the scene of weekly protests against the U.S.-led war against Iraq, but there was no organized demonstration at the time.

Demonstrations also were reported elsewhere in the country yesterday. Among them:

* In Washington, people participating in a Presidents' Day "Support the Troops" rally marched from the Capitol to Lafayette Park.

* In San Francisco, war protesters were arrested when they crossed onto Presidio Army Base in an act of civil disobedience. They were cited for trespassing, said a base spokeswoman.

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