John Michael Watts has been identified as the veteran who set himself on fire in front of the Georgia State Capitol today. Before he was taken to the hospital with severe burns, he said that he had done the horrific act to protest his treatment by the VA. Here is what we know so far about Watts and what happened.
1. John Michael Watts Had Fireworks & Homemade Incendiary Devices Strapped to Him
The George Bureau of Investigation identified the veteran as John Michael Watts. They had delayed identification until family had been notified. The veteran walked up to the state Capitol building with homemade incendiary devices and fireworks strapped to him, WSBTV reported. He then poured a liquid, likely gasoline, on himself and set himself on fire. He was the only person injured.
2. The 58-Year-Old Veteran Has Burns on About 90 Percent of His Body
A state trooper used a fire extinguisher to put out the flames, but not before the man was seriously injured. The veteran, who is a 58-year-old from Mabelton, has burns on 85 to 90 percent of his body. According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Watts does not have a current address.
AJC reported that Watts was a veteran with the Air Force.
3. A Sign on Watts’ Car Had a Name & Phone Number on It
Watts’ car was parked near the Capitol building. It had a large sign on the windshield with a name and phone number written on the sign, WSBTV reported. Officials asked that no one call the number because they were concerned it might be connected to an incendiary device. People in the area were asked to move about a block away from the capitol while police searched the car.
4. Watts Was Protesting His Treatment by the VA
Watts was able to speak enough to say that he was protesting his treatment by the VA, just before he was taken to the hospital.
Around 10:45 a.m., he parked his Nissan Sentra on Washington Street and started walking toward the Capitol building, AJC reported.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has 1,700 clinics and hospitals. A 51-year-old veteran set himself on fire and died in March 2016 in New Jersey. The staff had not ensured he received adequate mental health care, The New York Times reported.
Michael Owens, a Marine Corps veteran in Georgia, told The New York Times that many veterans have said the state VA is not responsive to them. “Being a disgruntled veteran is something that I hear a lot throughout our veteran community here in Atlanta.”
5. A Press Conference Was Happening Nearby When Watts Set Himself on Fire
Watts’ horrific actions got quick attention from the media because a press conference was already happening nearby when he set himself on fire. The sound of the explosion could be heard during a news conference that was being held about Georgia’s new hands-free law, Fox 5 reported.
This is a developing story.