An Akron Man Set Himself on Fire After Yelling About Donald Trump: UPDATE

We return from a long holiday weekend to relay the Akron Beacon Journal's excellent follow-up work in the wake of an unsettling story.

Kenn Gilchrist, the man who set himself on fire in Akron this month, remains at Akron Children's Hospital with third-degree burns. (See original story below.)

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.”

Gilchrist's life revolved around his patriotism, according to friends interviewed by the paper.

Community members gathered last week to write cards to Gilchrist. He's expected to remain in the hospital for another two months.

Originally published Nov. 21

The Akron Beacon Journal has the startling weekend story of a man who was seen and heard ranting against President-elect Donald Trump in Akron's Highland Square neighborhood. After approaching patrons at Angel Falls Coffee on Market Street, the 69-year-old man wandered onto the street and immolated himself.

The man was asking Angel Falls customers if anyone knew who had organized the recent anti-Trump rally in Akron. No one seemed to know, and the man became visibly angrier. “He said ‘I have a fucking gun, you S.O.B., and I’m not afraid to use it.'" one witness told the paper.

Before long, though, the man was heard telling the customers to enjoy their coffee before he headed out into the neighborhood.

Here is a particularly gruesome excerpt from the ABJ story:
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.”

The man was taken to Akron Children's Hospital with serious burn injuries. He has not been publicly identified, though he was wearing a military hat and at least one witness referred to him as a veteran.

“All I can say is God help us and help Trump, too,” the witness from the coffee shop said. “God help our country.”

About The Author

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
Scroll to read more Cleveland News articles


Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.