Gilchrist has led a life worth celebrating — a talented singer, he’s been writing an autobiographical musical about it for years.
He’s an orphan from Cleveland who grew up in a Nebraska boys home. He’s a gentle giant, an All-American football player with the voice of a choirboy. He’s private, but volunteers at the historical society while mentoring Pee Wee football players.
He’s a Christian and a soldier.
Gilchrist’s family is distraught and praying for his recovery as they ask for privacy.
“I need to speak with my husband first,” said his wife, Veronica “Ronnie” Gilchrist. “And right now, he can’t speak.”
The man approached a passer-by — whom witnesses identified as a 30-something Highland Square resident named Mike — on the side street behind Ohio Brewing Co. and asked him to take his picture, offering his own phone. But Mike never took a photo.
Before Mike knew what was happening, the 69-year-old grabbed a canister of gasoline from his car, soaked himself in fuel and set himself ablaze, witnesses said.
Bowman said she saw Mike using his coat to try to put out the flames when she was walking to her car.
The uniformed man, still on fire, collapsed on the South Highland devil strip near an apartment building a few feet from West Market Street, she said.
People who live nearby rushed out with fire extinguishers just as King turned the corner from his coffee shop to witness the aftermath.
The man was badly burned and had curled into the fetal position, King said.
“He had been wearing cloth gloves and they were burned off,” King said. “Part of his clothes burned away, too.”
King said he knelt next to the injured man.
“I didn’t touch him. No one did. We didn’t know what to do,” King said.
The burned man didn’t say anything, King said. “He barely moved an inch.”
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