According to the Georgia State Patrol, a disgruntled veteran set himself on fire in protest Tuesday outside the Georgia Capitol in downtown Atlanta.
Officials said veteran John Michael Watts, 58, who was protesting his treatment by the V.A., used a combination of fireworks and gasoline to set himself on fire. A spokesperson for the Georgia State Patrol said officers quickly extinguished the man. Medics rushed him to Grady Memorial Hospital by ambulance. The spokesperson said no one else was hurt.
The incident happened during a live feed around 10:45 a.m. which was streaming on one of the local news’ Facebook page of an unrelated news conference. The news conference was stopped as state troopers participating in the news conference rushed to the area from where the explosions came.
GSP troopers said the Air Force veteran from Mableton parked a Nissan Sentra on Washington Street, stepped out of the car and walked toward the Capitol.
“We have somebody who claims to be a veteran that is disgruntled with treatment by the VA. He was protesting that to the extent, that he caused bodily harm to himself,” Director of Georgia Public Safety Col. Mark McDonough said.
One man who witnessed it all said the whole turn of events made him nervous. “By the time he got up to the Capitol, try to go up the steps he couldn’t make it. So I guess the cigarette fell over in the fireworks and it started exploding and I look back over there and he was on fire,” witness Kent Beasley exclaimed.
The Atlanta Police Department and Georgia Bureau of Investigation bomb technicians searched for hours for a secondary device. Atlanta Police gave the signal that no explosive devices were found in the veteran’s Nissan Sentra at approximately 4:50 p.m. The State Capitol and the Judiciary Building were evacuated for most of the day.
The GSP said the Air Force Veteran was upset by the way the Veteran’s Administration had treated him.
Nearly 90% of his body was burned. He was listed in critical condition at Grady’s Burn Unit as of Tuesday evening. Officials said Watts does not have a current address.