Sidestepping the "lynch mob"
Arnav Gupta. (Montgomery County Police)
By Peter Hermann and Dan Morse
May 30 at 1:08 PM
A Maryland man who set himself on fire Wednesday afternoon on the Ellipse near the White House has died, according to U.S. Park Police.
The incident occurred about 12:20 p.m. near 15th Street NW and Constitution Avenue NW.
The man was taken to a hospital Wednesday and was in critical condition. On Thursday morning, Park Police officials said he had died.
Officials identified the man as Arnav Gupta, 33, of Bethesda. His family reported him missing to Montgomery County Police on Wednesday morning, and authorities put out a notice asking for the public’s help in finding him.
He was last seen by his family around 9:20 a.m. when he left his home on Cindy Lane, about 10 miles northwest of the White House. Montgomery County Police said the family was “concerned for Gupta’s physical and emotional welfare.”
Kevin Boland, a neighbor, said he had known Gupta since Boland moved onto Cindy Lane in Bethesda seven years ago.
“He really couldn’t have been a nicer kid,” Boland said. He said Gupta had always struck him as smart. Boland said he had not seen much of Gupta over the last year-and-a-half and had started to wonder if he’d moved out.
Boland said Gupta never expressed any extreme political views that might have somehow motivated him. He said the incident seemed inexplicable and was heartbreaking.
“This is a tragedy,” Boland said.
Authorities are trying to identify the accelerant that was used and determine whether a car belonging to Gupta was parked in the area.
D.C. police have taken over the investigation. Park Police initially assumed jurisdiction because the Ellipse is a national park.
A 17-year-old girl from Alexandria, Va., who was sightseeing with a cousin visiting from Bolivia, saw part of the incident and captured it on video. She sent it to her father, who posted it on Twitter.
The video shows smoke billowing from the lawn near a guard shack and some flames visible above parked cars.
The girl’s father, Krisjan Berzins, said in an interview that his daughter saw “Secret Service agents running toward him trying to extinguish the fire.”
In April, authorities said a man riding a motorized wheelchair set his jacket on fire outside the White House. He was not critically injured and was involuntarily committed for psychiatric help.