Man sets himself on fire at New York courthouse

Fire extinguishers (R) are left at the park across from Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City after a man reportedly set himself on fire during the trial of former U.S. President Donald Trump, in New York City on April 19, 2024.

Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images

A Florida man set himself on fire Friday outside of the New York courthouse where a jury was being picked for the criminal hush money trial of former President Donald Trump.

The man, identified by police as Max Azzarello, was taken to the Cornell Burn Center at New York Presbyterian Hospital, where he was in very critical condition and not expected to survive.

“His condition is not good, but of a right now he’s still alive,” a police official said of Azzarello, a St. Augustine resident who is in his mid-30s.

Azzarello ignited himself in an area across from Manhattan Supreme Court, which is cordoned off for protestors.

Police said he walked into the park area, opened a bookbag, and threw paper pamphlets onto the ground before pulling out a canister and pouring liquid that is suspected of being an accelerant, and then set himself on fire.

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

“I see him dumping gasoline on his face, very deliberately,” Quinn said, according to NBC News. “He had grey t-shirt on. It soaked his face. It soaked his shirt. Boom, he went up.”

“Women were begging, screaming, put it out, put him out,” according to Quinn, who said it took about a minute before police arrived.

Max Azzarello’s mug shot from August 21, 2023.

St. Johns County Sheriff’s Department

Flames from the fire reached 20 feet into the air before police were able to put out the fire using a large extinguisher after a smaller extinguisher was unable to do the job, video showed.

Azzarello’s motives were unknown but papers containing conspiracy theories were found around him.

“We do not believe he was targeting any particular person or any particular group,” another police official told reporters.

While Azzarello’s LinkedIn profile says he is currently a self-employed “research investigator,” it shows he previously held roles for a range of organizations, including the nonprofit advocacy group Strong Towns.

Charles Marohn, president of Strong Towns, confirmed in a call with CNBC that Azzarello worked for the group from early 2017 until August 2018. His work included helping set up the nonprofit’s Salesforce account.

“Today just makes me very sad,” Marohn said. “I hope he gets the help he needs.”

The organization is entirely remote, Marohn said, so he only saw Azzarello in person once or twice. They communicated mostly over email and Slack.

Asked if Azzarello seemed normal or well-adjusted at that time, Marohn said he “can’t say one way or the other, really.”

“To find out that it’s someone you know … I hope anyone who’s human in that instance would just feel sad,”…

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