New York police officers inspect a backpack left at the scene where a man lit himself on fire in a park outside Manhattan criminal court Friday in New York. Emergency crews rushed him away after the fire was extinguished outside the courthouse, where jury selection was taking place in former President Donald Trump’s hush money criminal case. Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

A man lit himself on fire Friday afternoon near the Manhattan courthouse where former President Donald Trump was being criminally tried, eyewitnesses told The Washington Post.

CNN chief legal analyst Laura Coates was reporting live on air outside the courthouse at 1:35 p.m. when she touched her earpiece, turned off-camera and said that a man had set fire to himself in nearby Collect Pond Park.

The CNN camera crew turned the camera to show two pillars of flame raging just feet away.

“We are watching a man who is fully emblazoned,” Coates said, adding that she could see an arm fully on fire.

Coates said bystanders and New York Police Department officers were rushing to try to extinguish him.

Julie Berman, 56, a Manhattan resident who came down to the plaza to photograph protesters, said she saw the man set himself on fire. He had a sign saying something about Trump and Biden working together to orchestrate a “coup,” she said, and another alleging some kind of “Ponzi scheme.”


The man told her to get back and then doused himself with gasoline, threw some fliers in the air and then doused himself again before flicking a lighter and catching fire, she said. She was about 15 feet away.

“It happened so fast and took my mind so long to catch up,” Berman said, adding she thought the liquid was water initially.

A person familiar with the investigation said the man threw brightly colored fliers in the air, one of which said “NYU is a mob front” and another which talked about the goal of “abolishing the criminal government” and mentioned the CIA.

Another witness in the park outside the courthouse also said he saw a man throw a pile of papers in the air, and then pour liquid over his head before using what looked like a cigarette lighter to set himself on fire.

The witness, Dave, who asked to be identified by his first name only, was visibly shaken and did not want to discuss his condition but said it “took police quite a while to get here, and he was on fire.”

Another witness, who would only identify himself as Louie M., was standing close to the man in the park when he immolated himself.


“I’ve seen stuff like that in foreign countries, but I have never seen it personally,” said Louie, who was horrified by how high the flames rose.

“He was enveloped in the fire. … He was really cooking,” he said. “I never saw anything like that. He didn’t look too happy before he did it. … He looked pissed.”

“As it became apparent that he was going to light himself on fire, I and everyone else ran away from him,” said Fred Gates, a passing cyclist who watched in disbelief as the man took two small gas cans out of his backpack.

“He was slow, he was calm,” Gates said.

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