Man dies after setting himself on fire outside courthouse where Trump is on trial (2024)

Warning: This article contains an image some may find disturbing.

A man who set himself on fire Friday outside the courthouse where former President Donald Trump's hush money trial is taking place has died, New York City police said early Saturday.

The man, whom police identified as Maxwell Azzarello of St. Augustine, Florida, was in the designated protest area outside.

No time of death was given by police. He was declared deceased by staff at the hospital where he had been taken, the NYPD said.

NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey B. Maddrey told reporters that Azzarello walked into the center of the park, shuffled around his clothes, opened a backpack and took out and threw numerous pamphlets on the ground. He then pulled out a canister, poured a liquid accelerant on himself, lit himself on fire, fell on a police barrier and then fell to the ground.

Police said the man entered Collect Pond Park, across the street from the courthouse, at around 1:30 p.m. before setting himself on fire. Bystanders, court officers and police used coats and fire extinguishers to try to put out the fire and help him, Maddrey said.

It appeared to happen around the time that the jury for Trump's trial was fully empaneled — with 12 jurors and six alternates selected to sit for a trial that's expected to last about six weeks. It occurred just before the court took a lunch break.

New York City Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh told reporters that Azzarello was taken to the burn unit at WeillCornell Medical Center, where he had been described as alive but in critical condition.

Four police officers and one court officer sustained minor injuries from dealing with the fire, Kavanagh said.

Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny said Azzarello was born in 1987 and arrived in New York City earlier in the week. He said that family members police were in contact with after the incident were unaware that Azzarello was in New York. Kenny said Azzarello's pamphlets seemed to be "propaganda-based" about Ponzi schemes and conspiracy theories.

Police said they don't believe Azzarello was targeting any particular person or group.

Law enforcement deployed a bomb squad search team just in case, Deputy Commissioner of Operations Kaz Daughtry said, and no devices were found in the area.

Man dies after setting himself on fire outside courthouse where Trump is on trial (1)

Three law enforcement sources told NBC News earlier that the man appears to have been a follower of some conspiracy theories and may have had emotional issues.He may have posted his intention to set himself on fire in advance, the sources said.

Moments after setting himself on fire, the man was lying on the ground, burning. At times, he appeared to seize. Police tried to use a small fire extinguisher to put the fire out, but were unsuccessful. While still on fire, the man tried to sit up. Police then used a large extinguisher to put out the fire.

Man dies after setting himself on fire outside courthouse where Trump is on trial (2)

A 73-year-old man from the Upper West Side, Dave, watched it happen. Dave said the person threw up a bundle of pamphlets, picked them up and threw them again.

“I heard this clattering,” he said. “That caught our attention. Then he pulled out a can.”

David said he saw the man begin to douse himself in something before taking out a lighter.

“There I thought, this could be awful,” he said. “I’m old enough to remember the Vietnam War.”

He said the person then set himself alight and was quickly engulfed in flames. The person didn’t make a sound as people around him looked on, horrified.

Man dies after setting himself on fire outside courthouse where Trump is on trial (3)

Ed Quinn, a freelance photojournalist who lives in the East Village, said he was facing the court when: “I heard someone scream, ‘He’s going to light himself on fire.’”

“I see him dumping gasoline on his face, very deliberately,” he said. “He had [a] gray t-shirt on. It soaked his face. It soaked his shirt. Boom, he went up.”

Quinn said it took the police about a minute to arrive.

“Women were begging, screaming, put it out, put him out,” he said.

Rebecca Shabad

Rebecca Shabad is a politics reporter for NBC News based in Washington.

Susan Kroll

Susan Kroll is an awarding winning producer of domestic and international stories for NBC News including Nightly News and "TODAY." She has covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Boston Marathon bombings and various political campaigns.Kroll has been honored with multiple Emmy, Murrow, National Headliner, NABJ awards.

Katherine Doyle

Katherine Doyle is a White House reporter for NBC News.

Adam Reiss


Jonathan Dienst


Emilie Dorn


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Man dies after setting himself on fire outside courthouse where Trump is on trial (2024)


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