A lawyer known for being a champion of LGBT rights died early Saturday morning after setting himself on fire in Prospect Park in Brooklyn.
“I am David Buckel and I just killed myself by fire as a protest suicide,” said a hand-written note on the grass near the remains, according to the New York Daily News. “I apologize to you for the mess.”
The remains of David S. Buckel, 60, were found near Prospect Park West near a popular trail used by joggers and bikers. Police told the Associated Press he was pronounced dead at about 6:30 a.m. While it appeared he burned himself to death, the NYPD said the cause of death is still under investigation.
Buckel left a suicide note in a shopping cart not far from his body and also emailed it to several news media outlets, according to The New York Times. The note urged people to lead less selfish lives in a way to protect the planet, and said that he hoped his death was “honorable” and “might serve others.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Buckel Set Himself on Fire to Protest Fossil Fuels and Bring Awareness to the Environmental Impact Humans are Having on the Earth
In the note Buckel sent to The Times at 5:55 a.m., he discussed the difficulty of improving the world “even for those who make vigorous efforts to do so.”
Privilege, he said, was derived from the suffering of others, according to the Times.
“Many who drive their own lives to help others often realize that they do not change what causes the need for their help,” Buckel wrote, adding that donating to organizations was not enough to make a real difference.
Buckel said he wanted his death to lead to increased action. “Honorable purpose in life invites honorable purpose in death,” he wrote, according to his note.
Buckel also wrote in his letter to the Times that “most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result – my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”
2. A Lead Attorney in Several High-Profile LGBT Cases, Buckel was a Considered a Champion of Gay Rights
Buckel was the lead attorney in Brandon v. County of Richardson in Nebraska, in which a county sheriff was found liable for failing to protect Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was murdered in Falls City, Neb. The movie “Boys Don’t Cry,” won an Academy Award for Hilary Swank’s portrayal of Teena in the film.
While serving as marriage project director and senior counsel at Lambda Legal, a national organization that fights for the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, Mr. Buckel was the strategist behind important same-sex marriage cases in New Jersey and Iowa, according to the Times.
The Times also reports that Susan Sommer, a former attorney for Lambda Legal, said Buckel was “one of the architects of the freedom to marry and marriage equality movement.”
“He deserves tremendous thanks for recognizing this was in many ways at the heart of what it meant to be gay for many Americans and making it a priority,” she said. “I learned so much from him about the emotional center of what it means for a gay person not to be able to have all the protections for the person they love and that it’s worth fighting for.”
The Times reports that one of the cases Buckel spearheaded, Nabozny v. Podlesny, was the first time a federal court ruled that schools have an obligation to prevent the bullying of gay students, said Camilla Taylor, acting legal director at Lambda Legal.
3. Buckel’s Suicide Letter States that Pollution “Ravages our Planet,” Making it Inhabitable
Buckel went to great lengths to make sure that first responders knew who he was and why he took his own life. According to the Daily News, he stapled his business card to the hand-written note that was found near his body, and neatly typed a second, longer note that detailed his explanation for his suicide.
The envelope containing both notes were inside a garbage bag, placed in a shopping cart near the charred remains of his body, according to the Daily News.
“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather,” he wrote. “Our present grows more desperate, our future needs more than what we are doing.”
4. Buckel was an Avid Gardener, Known to Neighbors as a Quiet, Serious Man
Catherine Varous, a neighbor of Buckel’s, said he was very active in gardening, and together they worked on the Greenest Block in Brooklyn competition, the Times reports.
Varous said she often saw Buckel and his partner at the Park Slope Food Co-op and a farmer’s market.
“He was the quieter of the two,” she told the Times. “He was definitely more serious.”
Early morning joggers and bicyclists spotted the burning body as smoke wafted through the air on the first warm spring morning in Brooklyn.
Bicyclist Rahmin Pavlovic, 43, claims Buckel’s choice spot for his death was no coincidence.
“It’s definitely some kind of statement,” Pavlovic told the Daily News. “He did it out in the open, right near the main entrance. Not in some tucked-away part of the park.”
Another bystander who was out jogging stumbled across the body before it was covered with up with a tarp. “We were a little freaked out,” the jogger told the Daily News.
5. Twitter Users Expressed Sympathy and Sadness at Buckel’s Death, Called his Death an “Incomprehensible Loss”
Twitter was flooded with pain and grief over Buckel’s death, with many expressing how deeply Buckel touched their lives.
Twitter user Jim Bennett said that Buckel helped him find his path in fighting for marriage equality, and considered his death an “incomprehensible loss.”
Others remembered Buckel as a teacher and role model, who worked hard to advocate and fight for LGBT rights.
Some even considered the idea that Buckel was actually murdered, and didn’t take his own life.
Yet others were not as impacted by Buckel’s death, claiming that in the process of trying to make a statement, he just released more greenhouse gases into the air, thus contradicting his message of trying to save the planet.