Man Who Set Himself on Fire Outside Trump Trial Dies

A man who set himself on fire on Friday afternoon outside the Lower Manhattan courthouse where former President Donald Trump’s historic criminal trial is taking place has died, according to police.

The man who set himself on fire was identified as Maxwell Azzarello, 37, from St. Augustine, Fla., NYPD Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny told reporters.

The act occurred in Collect Pond Park, a designated protest area across the street from the courthouse, which was open to the public, according to Police Chief Jeffrey B. Maddrey. During a press briefing on Friday, police said Azzarello walked into the park, opened up a book bag and threw pamphlets around, then pulled out a canister, poured what appeared to be an alcohol-based substance used for cleaning on his body and lit himself on fire. Police said they hadn’t received reports that Azzarello made any statements prior to setting himself alight.

“Civilians, court officers, members of the police department, they run into the park, they make efforts to put him out. They use their coats, they use fire extinguishers,” Maddrey said. The fire department was able to extinguish the fire. Four officers obtained minor injuries.

Officers responded to a 911 call at 1:39 p.m. local time on Friday and “observed a male engulfed in flames,” an NYPD spokesperson tells TIME. Emergency services transported Azzarello to New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center where he was pronounced dead shortly before 11 p.m.

Max Azzarello is seen here protesting outside of the Manhattan courthouse where Trump's hush-money trial is underway on April 18, 2024, the day before he set himself alight.<span class="copyright">David Dee Delgado—Getty Images</span>
Max Azzarello is seen here protesting outside of the Manhattan courthouse where Trump's hush-money trial is underway on April 18, 2024, the day before he set himself alight.David Dee Delgado—Getty Images

A police spokesperson tells TIME on Saturday they have not ascertained a motive and the investigation is still ongoing. NYPD Chief of Detectives Kenny said Azzarello arrived in New York City earlier in the week and his family members were unaware he was there.

Before lighting himself on fire, witnesses say the man threw several colorful pamphlets into the air. The pamphlets “seemed to be propaganda-based, almost like a conspiracy theory type of pamphlet,” that included information on Ponzi schemes and a conspiracy theory that “some of our local educational institutions are fronts for the mob,” Kenny said.

A person claiming to be the man on fire posted on Substack about the incident, referencing former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush and alleging a cryptocurrency-based global conspiracy.

The incident occurred moments after jury selection was completed in Trump’s hush-money case, the first criminal trial of an ex-President in U.S. history.

Videos circulating on social media showed the man lying on the ground on fire as smoke billowed near the Manhattan courthouse, which already had a heavy police presence due to the high profile nature of the trial taking place.

Trump, who has been present in the courtroom throughout the proceedings, faces allegations related to a $130,000 payment made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to prevent her claims of a sexual encounter with him from becoming public during the 2016 election.

Opening statements in the trial are expected to begin on Monday.

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