Althea Bernstein Says She Was Set On Fire By 4 White Men

Madison Feller, Rose Minutaglio
Photo credit: Courtesy GMA
Photo credit: Courtesy GMA

From ELLE

Althea Bernstein, an 18-year-old biracial woman from Madison, Wisconsin, was driving to her brother's house last Wednesday, when four white men allegedly doused her with fluid and tossed a flaming lighter inside her open car window, setting her neck and face on fire.

The college student suffered severe burns and will eventually need plastic surgery, according to Madison365. The incident is being investigated as a hate crime, according to the Madison Police Department incident report. Here's everything you need to know.

What happened to Althea Bernstein on June 24?

Bernstein was stopped at a red light when she heard someone yell “a racial epithet” at her, according to the police report. Her attackers, identified in the report as "four men, all white," allegedly sprayed liquid onto her face and threw a flaming lighter at her, causing the liquid to ignite.

She “patted out the flames,” according to the report, and went home. Bernstein later drove herself to the emergency room. Hospital staff believe the liquid was lighter fluid.

Bernstein told Good Morning America she hasn't slept or eaten much since the incident: "Once it happened, I don't even remember anything, but your brain still has that fight or flight response that takes care of you. So I made it home, I called my mom, I drove myself to the ER."

She suffered second- and third-degree burns and will need additional medical care. "It’s definitely a learning opportunity and I’m very very hopeful that these men sort of see all the responses and that they know they hurt me and that this is something that’s going to affect me for a while," Bernstein said on GMA. "I really hope that they choose to improve themselves."


What’s happening with the case?

The Madison Police Department says the incident is being investigated as a hate crime. Madison police spokesperson Joel DeSpain said that police are working to access Bernstein’s hospital records and investigators are looking if the incident was captured on surveillance cameras.

“Our department believes victims, and we take their statement and then thoroughly investigate what they said happened to them," DeSpain told CNN. "We believe this victim, and we are going to work with her and review all the video we can find."

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway released a statement calling the incident "a horrifying and absolutely unacceptable crime that I will not tolerate in Madison."

“While we are still learning more about the details, current information suggests this may have been a premeditated crime targeted toward people of color, which makes the incident even more disturbing. I immediately reached out to the police when I learned of the incident, asking them to use all available resources to pursue the perpetrators as quickly as possible," she said. "This hate crime is one of multiple recent downtown incidents where people’s safety and lives have been at risk. It is completely unacceptable and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have both reached out to Bernstein.

Meghan Markle and Bernstein spoke for about 40 minutes via phone, Bernstein’s acting spokesperson Michael Johnson told Channel 3000. Prince Harry also joined the call for about 10 minutes.

"[Bernstein] and Meghan talked about the importance of self care and allowing herself to heal," Johnson told Channel 3000. "She applauded her for the way that she responded and pretty much said, 'Hey Michael, give me her cellphone number I want to stay in touch. And let me know when you want me to come back and talk to people in Wisconsin.'"

"She’s struggling," Johnson added. "It’s a challenge for her. It’s very, very emotional. I talked to her three or four times today, and I’ll tell you Meghan lifted her spirits."

He said that Markle encouraged Bernstein to "avoid reading negative comments" and that the two spoke about faith and being biracial.

How to help:

In her statement, Rhodes-Conway said that anyone who has information about the crime should contact Madison Area Crime Stoppers at (608) 266-6014 or by computer at P3Tips.com.

A Change.org petition is available to sign for those who want to "spread awareness and fight for Althea."

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