‘Trained to protect’: Security guard severely burned trying to stop protester

Army veteran injured outside Israeli Consulate recovering in hospital
Michael Harris, shown with his wife and daughter, was burned Friday outside the Israeli Consulate in Midtown Atlanta.

Credit: Family photo

Credit: Family photo

Michael Harris, shown with his wife and daughter, was burned Friday outside the Israeli Consulate in Midtown Atlanta.

Michael Harris served his country for seven years in the U.S. Army and was always willing to lend a hand.

“What do you need me to do?” he would ask a neighbor in need.

On Friday, the 61-year-old was doing his job as a security guard when he saw a protester wanting to set themself on fire outside the Israeli Consulate building on Spring Street in Midtown Atlanta, his sister-in-law, Romona Kea, said Monday. Harris hoped he could talk the person out of it, Kea told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“He did what he knew to do,” Kea said. “He’s served out there. They’re trained to protect and serve, and that’s what Michael does.”

But when he did, Harris was also set on fire and severely burned. He rolled on the ground to extinguish the flames, his family said. On Tuesday, he remained in the burn unit at Grady Memorial Hospital, where he is awaiting surgery later in the day.

Harris received first-, second- and third-degree burns to various parts of his body, with his leg and arm among the most severely injured. He faces a long recovery, but his family is grateful he survived.

“Thank God that my husband is still here,” his wife, Tangellia, said on a GoFundMe page created to help with medical costs.

Harris, who has an adult daughter, is alert and in good spirits, Kea said. And he’s a fighter.

“Army strong,” she said. “That’s honestly what he’s being.”

But still, Harris wishes he could have done more to stop the protester from starting the fire. Atlanta police Chief Darin Schierbaum called the incident an “extreme act of political protest.”

The protester, whose name was not released, remained in critical condition Monday, according to a spokesperson for the Atlanta fire department.

A Palestinian flag that police said was part of the protest was recovered at the scene. Officials determined that gasoline was utilized to start the fire. The incident remains under investigation.

For nearly two months, Atlanta has seen several demonstrations organized in support of Israel and Palestine.

During a surprise attack Oct. 7 orchestrated by Hamas, about 1,200 Israelis were killed. Israeli bombardment and a ground campaign that followed Hamas’ attack have left more than three-quarters of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents homeless, the Associated Press reported. More than 13,000 Palestinians have been killed during the war, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

A cease-fire deal that took effect Nov. 24 ended Friday, and fighting quickly resumed. As part of the temporary truce, more than 200 Palestinian prisoners, mostly women and minors, were released by Israel, and more than 100 Israeli hostages were released by Hamas.

“We are saddened to learn of the self-immolation at the entrance to the office building,” Consul General of Israel to the Southeast, Anat Sultan-Dadon, said in a statement Friday. “It is tragic to see the hate and incitement toward Israel expressed in such a horrific way. The sanctity of life is our highest value.”

For Harris’ family, the support and prayers from the community are helping ease the burden of extensive medical care and recovery.

“He doesn’t have any regrets,” Kea said. “He relives it, he asks himself what could he have done differently.”

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