Report: Veteran who lit self on fire wanted people to ‘see the light’

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A 58-year-old veteran set himself on fire outside the Georgia Capitol early Tuesday.

Newly released reports about the Air Force veteran who intentionally lit himself on fire in Atlanta last month reinforce assertions that the act was an attempt to draw attention to veterans' issues.

John Michael Watts stood outside the state Capitol on June 26 and, strapped with homemade bombs and fireworks, doused himself with gasoline before lighting the devices. A Capitol police officer extinguished the flames, but he was badly burned.

The 58-year-old died nearly a week later, on July 2. 

Moments after the explosions, an officer asked Watts if he did it on purpose. Watts said yes and added that “the (Department of Veterans Affairs) would not help him,” according to a partially redacted Georgia Department of Public Safety incident report obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

On the way to Grady Memorial Hospital, Watts reportedly told a paramedic: "It was the only way to make people see the light."

A report also noted that Watts told the officer some of his relatives “would not listen to him.” Watts' sister, from Massachusetts, told officials at Grady that she tried to "talk him out of it" on the phone before the incident, a report said.

Once at the hospital, Watts again said yes when asked if he intentionally lit himself on fire, a report said.

Watts also told a medical director that his wife left him a year ago and that “no one wanted to help him,” according to a report. He said he’d driven to the city from Florida and had visited a Veteran Affairs building the day prior, though the timeline isn’t clear.

Watts apparently placed several signs on the Capitol steps before his act of self-immolation. The report declined to reveal what was written on the signs.


READ | UGA's School of Law opens free legal clinic for veterans


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