An Air Force veteran set himself on fire near the Georgia State Capitol on Tuesday while “wearing a vest lined with fireworks and flammable devices” to protest Veterans Affairs system, authorities said.
Officials identified the man as John Michael Watts, a 58-year old man from Mabelton, Ga., and said he was “disgruntled” with the VA system, according to Georgia Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mark McDonough.
Authorities did not say why the man was unhappy with the VA.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the man parked his Nissan Sentra on one side of the Capitol at around 10:30 Tuesday morning, walked toward the west entrance of the building and lit himself on fire. The man “doused himself with some kind of flammable liquid,” Georgia State Patrol spokesman Mark Perry said.
A state trooper quickly put out the fire with an extinguisher, and the man was transported to a hospital, McDonough said. More than 90 percent of the man’s body was burned and he is in critical condition, according to local reports. Authorities said the man was able to speak during transport.
Nearby streets were closed off, and judiciary buildings and the Capitol were evacuated, according to a local public radio station. Children at the Central Presbyterian church day care were moved by workers to a nearby church, according to AJC.
Atlanta police on Twitter declared the area surrounding the Capitol to be “all clear” a little before 5 p.m.
Perry, the Georgia State Patrol spokesman, told reporters that the vet did not indicate he had additional explosives, but officials chose to check the area “out of an abundance of caution.”
Officials said they do not believe anyone else was injured, according to a local report.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Atlanta police were on scene alongside the Georgia Bureau of Investigation who inspected the car using K-9s and a robot, according to local reports.
Officials told local news outlets there was a sign in the windshield with a phone number on it. “Please don’t call that number,” Perry told AJC, fearing it might be connected to another device.
The incident occurred in the middle of a news conference about a “hands-free” driving law set to go into effect July 1.
Gov. Nathan Deal (R) was not at the Capitol during the fire, according to his spokesman.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs told The Post via email it could not “comment on the specifics of this Veteran’s case due to patient privacy laws” but said “the department is ensuring he receives the VA care that he needs.”
FOX 5 Atlanta spoke with a man who claimed to have witnessed the incident.
“By the time he got up to the Capitol, try to go up the steps he couldn’t make it,” Kent Beasley told the local news station. “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.”