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What Drove a Man to Set Himself on Fire in Brooklyn?

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Why did a man turn himself on fire?

Sometime before dawn on April 14, David Buckel left his small brick house on the edge of Prospect Park in Brooklyn, pulling a shopping cart. He passed the magnolia tree in the garden, the stone sculptures he had made. Then instead of walking to work, as he usually did on Saturdays, he went into the park.

He turned onto the road that loops around the meadows and ball fields, and after less than a quarter of a mile, he veered onto the grass. The place he chose would surprise people later, when they came with flowers: It wasn’t a plaza or a spot where crowds gathered — just a stretch of patchy lawn on the shoulder of the road.

It’s not clear how long Mr. Buckel stood there, or when he doused himself with gas, but at 5:55 a.m., as the light began to gather before sunrise, he sent an email to the news media explaining what he was about to do. The first 911 call came at 6:08 a.m.: man on fire.

When responders arrived, the flames were going out. Mr. Buckel, a prominent civil rights lawyer turned environmental advocate, was dead. He was 60.


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