Man sets self on fire on National Mall

A man set himself on fire on the National Mall Friday passers-by rushed over to help douse the flames. Photo: Vanessa Sink

WASHINGTON (AP) - It was approximately 4:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon at the National Mall. Witnesses say a man got out of his car, walked out onto the grassy area while carrying a gas can, then calmly lit himself on fire.

"I heard from people around me that he was yelling something about voting rights...[He] poured the gas can on his head and lit himself on fire.," describes witness and tourist, Tommy Hess.

Good Samaritans out for a run immediately raced over to help.

"He was facing the Capitol, they ran over...they couldn't find water," says federal worker, Nicole Didyk. "They tried to put the fire out with their shirts."

"There was not a lot people could do because it was a gasoline fire," says witness Katy Scheflen.

She adds she did not see him holding any signs before he set himself ablaze, but there was another man with a tripod set up near him. It is unclear whether the man was filming the incident.

The reason for the self-immolation has not been confirmed and the man's identity was not disclosed. But it occurred in public view, on a central national gathering place, in a city still rattled by a mass shooting last month and a high-speed car chase outside the U.S. Capitol on Thursday that ended with a woman being shot dead by police.

The series of events has understandably set residents on edge, but many are hoping and praying that things get better.

"We go to work every day, we're Americans, that's what we do; you try to make the best of whatever situation you're in, but it's hard," says Kimberly Ellis.

The D.C. police department has dispatched its violent crimes branch, which responds to cases in which a person suffers serious injury.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.