Florida man dies after setting himself on fire outside Donald Trump's trial

Members of media are seen moments after a person reportedly self-immolated outside the Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on April 19, 2024.
Members of media are seen moments after a person reportedly self-immolated outside the Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on April 19, 2024.
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A Florida man has died after setting himself on fire Friday outside the downtown Manhattan courthouse where Donald Trump is on trial on 34 counts of falsifying business records, according to officials.

Officials said Maxwell Azzarello from St. Augustine, Florida, walked into the park across from the courthouse, threw the pamphlets down and set himself ablaze.

Police and the fire department were called to the scene shortly after 1:30 p.m. Bystanders tried to help put out the fire with their coats and a fire extinguisher. Azzarello was transported to the NY Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Hospital burn unit.

Shortly before 11 p.m., hospital staff pronounced him dead, police Detective Sophia Mason told USA TODAY.

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Police called Maxwell Azzarello a conspiracy theorist

NYPD Chief of Detectives Joseph E. Kenny said police believe Azzarello came to New York from Florida sometime after April 13, but his family did not know he was there.

Kenny also called the man a conspiracy theorist based on the pamphlets he dropped and an online post related to the incident.

"The pamphlets seem to be propaganda-based, almost like a conspiracy theory type of pamphlet, some information in regards to Ponzi schemes, and the fact that some of our local educational institutes are fronts for the Mob, so a little bit of conspiracy theory going on there," Kenny said.

In a Substack post believed written by Azzarello, he said the incident was "an extreme act of protest."

He said he was an investigative researcher and delved into theories on cryptocurrency, the Silicon Valley Bank failure and various educational institutions.

"To my friends and family, witnesses and first responders, I deeply apologize for inflicting this pain upon you," the post reads. "But I assure you it is a drop in the bucket compared to what our government intends to inflict."

'Oh, I think I'm gonna see something bad here': Witnesses recount charred face

An Upper West Side resident who asked to be identified only by his first name, Dave, told USA TODAY he was walking by when he heard pamphlets fall to the ground.

"He had a can, and he poured fluid all over himself, at which point I said, 'Oh I think I'm gonna see something bad here,'" he said. "And sure enough, he pulled out a lighter, I think a lighter, and set himself on fire."

Julie Berman said she saw the man being taken away on a stretcher.

"His face was completely black," she said.

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New York police guard the site across from Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City after a man reportedly set himself on fire during the trial of former President Donald Trump, in New York City on April 19, 2024. A man set himself on fire Friday outside the court, New York police said, with officers rushing to extinguish the flames. TV reporters described the scene that unfolded moments after the full panel of 12 jurors and six alternates was selected for the trial of the former president in a hush money cover-up case.

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Law enforcement is seen moments after a person reportedly self-immolated outside the Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on April 19, 2024.
Law enforcement is seen moments after a person reportedly self-immolated outside the Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on April 19, 2024.

Footage from the scene posted by a Politico reporter shows a person engulfed in flames near where multiple camera crews were set up. CNN reporters said they saw the incident live on air.

Deputy Police Commissioner Tarik Sheppard told reporters Azzarello did not cross the security perimeter outside the courthouse where Trump's trial is being held.

“There was no security breach here,” Sheppard said.

Shortly after the incident, Sheppard said, he requested a bomb squad search of area for secondary devices and weapons. As of the time of the news conference, he said, no devices had been found.

Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said three police officers and one court officer suffered minor injuries from the fire.

Authorities were determining whether to ramp up security around the courthouse in light of the incident but have not made a firm decision yet.

"We'll be continuing with the search of this area. And as far as your question about enhanced security procedures, we're going to ... look into this," Sheppard said. "We may have to shut this area down. We're going to have a conversation."

Trial participants were aware of what happened outside the courthouse.

Contributing: Bart Jansen

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Man dies after setting himself on fire outside Trump trial in New York