Burner Community Processes Its Greatest Tragedy

As Utah Burners return from Element11, more information is coming out about Saturday night’s horrific public suicide.

If you’ve had enough of this story, and would like to move on, it’s as easy as not reading this article and reading something else instead. There are billions of other web pages to take
your mind away from this. Meanwhile, a record number of Burners from around the world are interested in this story, vastly outweighing the few who indignantly profess that it’s time to ignore it.

We’re still waiting on some sort of comment from Burning Man. All they’ve posted is an “emotional survival guide to Burning Man”, written by one of their Directors; and their “gorgeous” and “mandatory” 2014 Survival Guide. If they do make an official comment, we’ll share it here.

The Element11 event organizers seem to be doing a good job of handling the media, under an extreme pressure situation. We commend them for not endangering any more lives while dealing with this unprecedented situation, and their calm and compassionate response to the tragedy.

The event took place on private property in Grantsville, about 36 miles Southwest of Salt Lake City. The theme of this year’s festival was “Into The Wild”, and the effigy “Sparky” was based on a character from Maurice Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are” – a book that gave me nightmares as a kid.

If there is any silver lining in this cloud, it is that the event was 18+, so young children did not have to be traumatized by the suicide victim’s public statement.

We would encourage anyone who witnessed the horrific tragedy to seek help, it’s OK. Talking about this with a professionally trained grief counsellor now might help to process the situation and prevent recurring Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms in the future.  See the bottom of this post for some links for support.

Sparky, the effigy from Into The Wild at Element11 2014;  photo credit: Fox13

Sparky, the effigy from Into The Wild at Element11 2014; photo credit: Fox13

Video Stories:

Fox13 was first on the scene

It was the Top Story on KUTV2 news from Utah

ABC4 Utah

Around the World:

New York Daily News: Man commits suicide by leaping into giant bonfire at Burning Man-style festival in Utah

UK Daily Mail: Festival-goer dies at ‘Utah’s Burning Man’ after running into burning 30-foot-tall effigy in apparent suicide

A member of the victim’s family has commented here, sharing that the eyewitness accounts are helping them make sense of the terribly sad event.

The man who committed suicide was a member of my family. Not my burning man family–I’ve never been & don’t plan on ever going (no offense to your community) but my actual everyday life family. He was married, he had a good job with perks, and a life that although it was hard like all our lives are hard was also good. Our family is trying to make sense of this also, which is why I’ve found all the eyewitness accounts posted here fascinating. Personally, I don’t see how he could have committed suicide unless he was under the influence of SOMETHING. Right now my priority is supporting his poor wife, who wasn’t there, and was thrown into shock when police broke the news.

Next time y’all consider calling someone names for committing suicide publicly, please consider all the poor decisions you’ve made when you’ve been drunk or high, and give that person the benefit of the doubt that perhaps they weren’t acting in full possession of their faculties.

Our sincerest condolences go out to the victim’s wife and family.

We have some more detailed eyewitness reports from Burners.

MadMaxine said:

It’s amazing how the rumor mill spins and spins. There was no magnesium in the fire. There were some other accelerants (it takes a bit to get a couple thousand board-feet of old scaffolding planks to go up in flames as a bonfire), but yeah, it was an intensely hot fire- that’s how we build ‘em. Also, among the first things that the e-11 bod did was to get in touch with Burning Man and get their legal and other support, because we know this impacts the entire burn community.

To the burners.me blogger (whoever you are), I really appreciate that you are aggregating all the news on this. It’s hard to find, and you are providing a good service. You are also holding space for people to process and discuss this, as is also occurring on many other discussion groups. Though we all have our –intense– feelings about this, I am hoping that all the “space holders” can see beyond their own thoughts and emotions, and resist the urge to name call or judge anyone or their comments. We all need to let it out at this point, and shushing and “you’re saying it wrong” does not allow that to happen. Anger is definitely one of the stages of grieving, so let’s not turn it on each other.

H was one of the first responders, and offered on-site grief counselling. She says:

The fire became such a hot, huge engulfing blaze that those of us in the front row were scrambling to get back while the perimeter was being enlarged. Rangers and other personnel were working hard to contain the scene. Regardless of personal motive or state, a runner evaded all inner reason and outer restraint and ran into the fire in a way that assaulted all who witnessed his immolation. According to PrestigeFuneralPlans.co.uk, This was not a funeral pyre; this was not a call for help. This was a misguided attempt to be one with a power beyond self that overwhelmed the celebration with grief. While emergency personnel hosed the flames and worked to locate and extricate remains, we in the gathering went from bafflement to shock, then joined hands in a circle as emergency vehicles swept onto Seabase as anything-but-artcars. For all who weren’t there who admonish people for feeling anger at a selfish man’s act of suicide, the experience was tragic and horrific and undeniably sad beyond words. Thanks for the heartfelt speech via the Jellyfish car PA system that got people moving again and then became an announcement for leadership to gather immediately. Thanks to the personnel and organizers who shaped crisis to purpose and got mobilized immediately. The quiet was profound, then muted.
I went into doctor mode and became a first responder for people fainting and felled at the scene, then crisis counselor at center camp. Others were at the Temple; next day it still stood as all remaining burns were cancelled; I wonder how the structures will be repurposed. Amidst smoldering remains of the Wild Thing effigy, a heart of stones with was placed at the spot where the man last stood. My heart goes out to the designer and builders of the structures whose efforts were thwarted from joy and now need our support to move on to other acts of creation. 
May we all have peace and closure for this event, tempered like steel in flame to become stronger in purpose and resolve to not let a sole incident define a greater good.

…I have compassion for all the participants, the family and friends of the man who left (not just lost) his life, and the rest of us affected by this tragic event.
I also remember that around the world every day there are countless people shellshocked by war, hatred, rape and other atrocities on personal to public scales of calamity.
Let us heal in ways that we grow stronger.

Burner Del Hargis said:

There is a seed of blessing in all things. The gift of fire is transformation. I’ve come face to face with the depth of my own shortcomings through this fire we all have walked through together this weekend.

I apologize deeply for being so arrogant, self centered and self serving. It has all been a front to hide my fear and pain. My arrogance was a mask for my shame. I have been blind. But now because of a leap into our fire of transformation I can see clearer today.

Thank you Fire Brother for the seed of seeing. Your sacrifice will never be forgot

photo credit: Del Hargis

photo credit: Del Hargis

My heart is full of every emotion possible today. I know yours is too. Instead of having to figure out how to function in the default world today I wish we could all spend the week together up in the mountains processing and healing our hearts with and through each other.

From the beginning this was our communities most amazing event to date. The organization, attention to details, creativity, the amount of time, talent and love that went into it all was more than evident from the moment you passed the gate.

I have never been more proud of our Utah Burner family than I was of all of us this whole weekend. From the beginning of the event to the end… you were all amazing.

There are so many people to thank, so many details that could be pointed at to describe how incredible the event was. But the one thing that jumps out the most to me is our love.

I love the way we love. Thank you for your love, our greatest art of all.

Burner Zoë said:

The entire three story structure was packed with wood so that it would burn hotter and longer. They also soaked the thing in flammables so that the flames spread quickly. After the fire dancers finished their show the board of directors marched up the the statue with flares and threw them all into it. Within a minute the entire thing was engulfed in flames. The thing was three stories tall, the flames reached even higher.

It burned for a good 10 minutes before that asshole made a run for it. There was a perimiter setup about 60 ft away from the burn. The flames were so hot that people had to back even further away. Even then I was standing behind people because the heat was still burning my skin.

The first thing I saw was the guards running after him. I was right in front so I had a perfect view of everything. When I saw him he was dancing towards the fire. He even stopped to dance backwards for a moment. Continuing his dance he bolted forward again and did a front flip… Right into at the base of the fire… I couldn’t be sure if what I had seen had been real. There was almost no reaction in the crowd. Had they not seen it? Or were they in shock just as bad as I was? I only heard one person scream. I was too disoriented to tell where the sound came from. Later I found out it was Scarlett right in front of me.

Part of the structure kind of collapsed in on him when he went through the beam. At that point, any ridiculous hope that he could still be pulled out was gone. He was buried and no one could get even close to the fire. We were still able to see him though. I watched as his body slowly fell apart as the intense heat cooked him alive. Minutes later, after part of his body had already disintegrated and he should have been dead, his arm started twitching. It kept doing that for what felt like hours but couldn’t have been more than minutes, if that. Even now I still see that arm twitching every time I close my eyes. That or the flip he did right as the jumped in. Neither of those are as bad as the thought that keeps plaguing my mind. He didn’t scream… How is it even possible that he didn’t scream…

As soon as everyone regrouped we stood there watching the fire as the firemen were desperately trying to put it out. My legs went weak and I sat down unable to move. Everyone was crying. Someone mentioned going to the ascension temple (a kind of relaxation tent) instead of watching. I couldn’t move. Couldn’t talk. I just sat there and watched their futile attempts to put it out. As the ash from the fire fell on us, I started to wonder how much of that used to be human flesh? I was unresponsive for somewhere around an hour. I don’t really remember much of that hour. Or the rest of the night for that matter. It would probably be worth mentioning that the acid I took had started peaking right around the time that he had jumped in. Every moment of watching him die had been seared into my mind… As my friend Judas put it “no offense but you’re most likely going to be psychologically scarred for the rest of your li It t be a good idea to avoid acid for a while.”

Eventually the police showed up and one of the asked if we were ok. Our whole group looked pretty bad. My friends explained that we had seen it all and he asked us to fill out witness reports. Standing up to walk over to the police cars was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.

While we were waiting to fill out statements one of the Element 11 volunteers noticed me and walked over. He was worried that I was just about to be sick. I didn’t respond. He stood there and hugged me for a while as I cried. As we waited they started grouping people with sheets around the remains of the fire. We couldn’t see what they were covering up but we all knew. I could see the paramedics walking to and from the vehicle as they carried what must have been multiple body parts…

The waiting got to be too much. I didn’t want to be around people so I snuck behind the truck and walked off. In the middle of all of that horror I abandoned my best friends out of selfishness… I am more ashamed of that than anything I’ve ever done. They needed me and I just left…

Walking back to camp I was stopped by all kinds of people worried about how I looked. I still wasn’t saying much so they would just give me a hug and tell me to stay around friends. Instead I went back to camp to throw up and be alone. I sat in the van for about an hour just staring at nothing. Replaying the event over and over in my head. My arm kept twitching every time I thought about the way his arm twitched and wondered if he was still alive during that.

After a while one of my friends showed up and we talked about what had just happened. What made us even more sick than watching him burn was the way people reacted. Within minutes there were people asking if they were still going to do the second burn. Worried that the party was going to be shut down and people would have to leave. One couple set up a blanket and everything, so they could “at least watch what was left of the burn.”. One lady kept going off about how it was her birthday that day, and that it was just her luck that something like that would happen. It disgusted me… After about an hour the music was going again and people were back to dancing. “Celebrating life” was their bullshit excuse.

Burner Bluebliss:

Everything [Zoe] explained was exactly how I saw it as well. My boyfriend and I were sitting directly to the right of where the firefighters were stationed. I could not believe what had happened. I was in immense shock and I kept my hand over my face in disbelief for so long. What hit me the hardest was at one point I could have sworn that I saw his hand reach up through the flames.

I also overheard several people talking amongst themselves and one person said, “And he was having such a good night…”

You never expect anything like this to ever happen. You hear about people dying at festivals all the time, but nothing quite like this.

Burner Bryce gives a name to the man, who was in his camp:

Chris was a member of my camp, and beloved of many of my friends. I wish I’d known him better; he struck me as a person well worth knowing: friendly, funny, generous, intelligent, creative.

I saw him jump, watched him from behind the perimeter, though I didn’t know he was from our camp until much later. Reading all these firsthand accounts is… difficult.

My only request: please don’t call his death a “public statement.” We only know what he did, not why. I understand that everyone in this community has been affected by the tragedy, and I feel the same urgency to make sense of it that everyone else does. But those closest to him will be fighting to “make sense” of this for the rest of their lives. My heart goes out to all of you.

Burner Daisey:

He was running out there. He was dancing around a little bit, and then all of a sudden he jumped into it. It’s like he didn’t even know it was fire, it’s like he thought it was just a playground. The whole time I was thinking, ‘He’s going to walk out, he’s going to be OK, he might have severe burns, skin grafts, OK but I thought he was going to survive it.

Burner Carl:

I was there, and I can tell you the reaction of the people around me. At first, it wasn’t obvious what had happened. From our angle of view, he might have run past the fire and not into it. Once it had become clear what had transpired, a sense of shock came over everyone. Everyone was very quiet. A man spoke over the loudspeaker of the JellyFish art car, and spoke words of support and compassion for the man who had just died. The speaker passed along a suggestion that we all hold hands to honor the man who had just died. A long line of people holding hands formed, facing and partially encircling the fire. After this tragedy transpired, it was clear the celebration was over. I have never heard Element 11 be so quiet and subdued. There was a clear sense of shock among the participants, especially among the rangers and volunteers who helped put together this event that is meant to pull everyone together in a positive manner. There were lots of hugs and mutual comfort. Let me pass along my compassion on to the man who died, to his family, his friends, and to all the people who witnessed this tragedy

Burner Loveislife said:

He literally just disappeared after dancing to the flames.

To his family- He made the easiest exit out, weather led by other forces or not. It was as peaceful as could possibly be. He might not have known.. literally disappearing like a magic trick. My thoughts and heart go out out to All. It’s very lucky there was no scream- no noise- no flailing or presence of pain. That is truly something to be grateful for.. Hugs to All!! Embrace your personal moments for the rarity of what we find important is sometimes lost.

Burner Michael said:

this was my first visit to E11, and to Bonnevlle Seabase, a beautiful location for a lovely joyful event. I was resting my legs on a trailer at about 9o’clock as Sparky burned, the leaves and twigs had flashed off in to sparks and the fire was intense through all the heavy, repurposed lumber of the structure. The upper elements had mostly fallen, focussing my attention up high , then I saw the man running in from the right, Rangers running towards him; I thought first he had run round the far side, but it was immediately apparent that he had run straight in.

Very rapidly the First fire hose started where he had gone in, and another started in to the centre, which was too hot for it to have much effect. Everyone near me was stunned, shocked expressions and tears. I went back to my camp and easily decided to keep my whirlpool running, naturally all the music had stopped. People came and we talked and shared and reached out from the moment of shock, back to the life and beauty of the event. I went back to centre camp, felt relief as th e music started back up. Mostly I feel compassion for all those who have visual and visceral memories Faroese distressing than mine

Burner Bingo:

All of us who are witnesses are grieving that one of our own Burner family did something like this.
As our group rose to move back I noticed that a man from somewhere close to us on the perimeter was dancing towards the flames. I thought it was a little soon to do the fire dance. He seemed full of joy waiving his arms and skipping. I assumed was caught up in the moment. Then, as the rangers closed in towards him to tell him to back up, he bolted, spun as he leapt in and landed on his butt. Boards crashed down around him and his hands came up, as if reaching towards the sky. Rangers and firemen moved forward in a vain attempt to rescue him but the heat was too intense. Within what seemed like just 15 seconds the second tier of the structure came down. As someone said, he had a look of joy on his face as he jumped. That joy was sucked out of everyone there and that joy went up in the sky and smoke with him.
Many are trying to understand why, as is his default world family. I know it may be hard, but when you (Grieving Relative), campmates and others who knew him personally are able to talk more about him, it will begin this emotional healing process. I’m sure some in this community can be helped and achieve some sense of closure by knowing more about him, his life, his motivations and his sense of mind before, going and while at E11. The big question most people had afterwards was “Why?” I still do.
I went to sleep last night with the image of him jumping in the flames in my head. I woke up this morning to it. Food has not tasted good since that night, when I can even eat it. I’ll see that image for a long time.
But I’m strong. I’ll get through this. But many will need help after having this moment burned in to their psyche, some brains enhanced by mind expanding substances which makes the impact even deeper. His actions affected everyone. He made his end a public event and now the public who witnessed it needs to come together to help each other.
Saturday night I put aside my own thoughts. My motivations, along with my wife’s, was to help others. We set out across our little city and sought out people standing alone. We checked on them, offered aid, comfort, hugs, anything they needed. We ended up back at our vortex camp and sat until late in the morning, calling out to people who walked by if they needed to talk. Some did. If you are hurting, do not suffer this pain in private. Talk about it.

There are also some questions raised from people who weren’t at the event.

Burner Merritt said:

if I had any clear idea as to why it’s happening I’d say so, but I don’t. All I have is questions. I could guess at a lot of things but they’d all be insensitive because it’s not best to just spew opinions when we’re talking about a growing trend of people trying to throw themselves into the effigy fires or committing suicide in other ways during Burn events.

What I DO think is that everyone always just brushing it off as “it’s the drugs” is sweeping the problem under the carpet

There are tons of things similar to these events, around the world and throughout history, with fires just as large, and just as much intoxication, and yet they’re not having to try and catch a growing number of “jumpers” each year, or finding someone hanging from the scaffolding who’d been there for hours because everyone thought it was art.

I also think that trying to ignore that it’s a growing problem is also sweeping things under the carpet. So all I’m saying is that I think it’s an issue that could use more open discussion. 

For instance here in our region just a few weeks ago at a pre-Burn event, a girl hijacked a golf cart and tried to kill herself by driving it into the fire, which would have knocked the whole thing down onto FRT, and they managed to jump on the golf cart and stop it before it reached the effigy, but not before it knocked over a propane accumulator, and several people were burned, including children.

But nobody wants to talk about it, and if you do try to talk about it you’re “spreading the drama”.

So I don’t know, but it’s my opinion that whatever it is, it’s weirder than just people who are having a bad trip or a bad weekend…and that we’ll never get to a space of trying to figure it out if we never ask the question, WHY? 

Why is the Burn scene having this problem, why is it different?

Ra Khan, who is not yet a Burner, saw parallels to the ceremonial rituals of the Druids, which were based around the concept of live human sacrifice inside a Wicker Man as a lesson to spectators about the magical power the Druids held over them. These ancient rituals also form the basis of the elite secret society festival featuring theme camps, a ban on commerce, and nicknames called Bohemian Grove, which is happening over the course of this entire month just north of San Francisco in Monte Rio, Sonoma County.

Your religion has intrigued me for a long time but I’ve always been put off by how it seems so much like the Wicker Man and Bohemian Grove. After seeing this I’m convinced there is something to my initial thought.

Lamp lighters in robes set fire to an effigy of the god Moloch in a ritual ceremony at Bohemian Grove

Lamp lighters in robes set fire to an effigy of the god Moloch in a ritual ceremony at Bohemian Grove


Helpful resources:

There is no shame in reaching out for help at a time like this. Everybody processes trauma differently, and you may not even realize if you are suffering subconsciously.

Kevin Hansen has offered support and counselling:

If any of the E11 staff or participants are needing someone to talk with today, I am making myself available to you.

I have 20 years’ experience as a NLP/Hypnosis/Shamanic Practitioner and I work specifically with PTSD and trauma.

Please feel free to contact me at kevin@cognitivechanges.com 

Burner Lori shared this guide to processing post-traumatic stress.

Burner Paul has shared this video about coping with suicide:

National Suicide Prevention HotlineNo matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. 1-800-273-TALK


23 comments on “Burner Community Processes Its Greatest Tragedy

  1. Pingback: You Think You Made That Art Car? It’s Ours | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  2. Is there going to be a fund set up for the widow and family? Does anyone know if this is something she is even capable of handling financially? If someone with any info about a memorial fund, helping to offset funeral or any other kind of other cost, please post it here and I will share it with my Texas and Missouri Burn community.

    I dont care if there are gonna be haters saying anything about this post….bc in my mind- one of the 10 principles, as a community, is gifting. By showing our support, for this horrible and life-changing event, to those who were DIRECTLY involved, i.e., his widow and family, might help them a little bit, I hope it will also offset any hurtful words others have posted and/or the family has seen. We need to show more than words of support.
    I know there are others who didn’t know him, but witnessed this…and I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive this man, in his pain, confusion, whatever which forced you to see something that nobdoy should ever have to see…
    I have seen the video and cant stop thinking about it, nor any of you who are affected. DO SEEK HELP! DO TALK ABOUT IT.
    Perhaps, the Utah community can have a decompression-group-meeting to grieve and process this and have people like green dots ready to help, listen and offer support. There are hundreds of you who will deal with this for the rest of lives. You are not alone. WE all love you. WE are a family, and your loss, confusion, pain and anger is felt by us all.
    Take care, you. Hug someone today and tell them you love them. Feel the love, feel the healing and may you all sleep soundly with better dreams.

  3. mabey the guy was happy to just go out like that.mabey he wasnt afraid
    mabey he didnt want to go back to reality

  4. Pingback: Utah Suicide Victim Named | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  5. Very confused by all the reactions… not sure what’s tragic about a dude doing what he wanted to do and going out like he dreamed…

    Death is a celebration, and these people were given a gift.

    • When death is sought out by an individual, it often leads to death sought out by a group, and a movement. Eventually the movement decides that those not seeking death are the problem. Suicide is an unavoidable, and sometimes hard to condemn, consequence of the human condition, but hardly something to celebrate.

  6. so – have people forgotten about the man who hung himself in camp a few years back? or the car pile up on 447 in 2003? so many deaths have happened, we should keep them ALL in our memory, and remember this is not the first, and hopefully it will be the last. may peace be with you all through this time <3

  7. Perhaps we should consider what “radical self reliance” really means. With the angst that is so prevalent in the world, and the not unreasonable fear that things are falling apart in so many ways, we should remind each other that true self reliance is not just about being tough and resourceful enough to take care of our selves, but also to take care of those in our immediate vicinity. If the powers that be fail to maintain order in the world, then it is our job to not just survive, but to keep some semblance of civil society, and to reassure those close to us that we will do are best to pull everyone through.

    • I think people who take mind altering drugs at these events should also reconsider what the principal of participation means. Can you acheive deeply personal participation if you are not in a present state of mind?

      • or, alternatively, if you are one of the 10% of sober ones compared to 90% who are partying, are you really participating? Are you truly included?

  8. Beautifully written, and hard to read. Chris was a member of my camp, and beloved of many of my friends. I wish I’d known him better; he struck me as a person well worth knowing: friendly, funny, generous, intelligent, creative.

    I saw him jump, watched him from behind the perimeter, though I didn’t know he was from our camp until much later. Reading all these firsthand accounts is… difficult.

    My only request: please don’t call his death a “public statement.” We only know what he did, not why. I understand that everyone in this community has been affected by the tragedy, and I feel the same urgency to make sense of it that everyone else does. But those closest to him will be fighting to “make sense” of this for the rest of their lives.

    My heart goes out to all of you.

  9. “This brings to mind two other very public Burner suicides, the body of Jermaine Barley that was found hanging (possibly for hours) at queer camp Comfort and Joy in 2007, and arsonist/protestor Paul Addis jumping in front of a train in San Francisco in 2012. Suicide is always a tragedy, and inflicts pain on everyone who knew the person. Something like this, though, is terribly scarring for all those who had to witness it. All three Burner suicides were very selfish public statements.”

    Paul Addis’s Suicide, which you mocked in Cartoon by Christopher on June 24th, 2014
    highlights the issue of the need to creating a community that cares for, not rejects or prosecutes or shames those among us who have chronic or episodic mental illness(es).

    Doing the same to someone with a physical deformity would be taboo, but yet in your choice to represent Addis as “some stupid with a flare gun” you have done the same exact thing, albeit to someone with a wound that isn’t visible and isn’t easily treated in our instant gratification, drive through culture.

    Calling suicide “selfish” is like calling the actions of the kid from Baltimore who tried to mug me at gunpoint a few months back a “choice”. People generally make holistic choices when they are well enough or are able to do so. Since the Reagan Bush (Sr.) medicare and medicaid cuts of the 90s we have collectively de-funded mental health care in this country and forced those who have such issues to rely on medication which often has side effects worse than the illness, or therapists whose yearly number of visits run out as quickly as tickets to the playa, leaving those in crisis at the mercy of the compassion of a community that often radically excludes those most in need for not liking the right flavor of house music or wearing last seasons kicks.

    When we collectively stop excluding or making cartoons out of those of us who break and really offer a sincere, inclusive subculture that focuses less on the party and more on creating a truly balanced, loving healing environ, issues like this will persist as they have in our parent culture(s).

    Love Live Gavin

    p.s. check out NAMI National Alliance on Mental Illness http://www.nami.org
    for some tips on how to not make disposable comic objects out of our brothers and sisters who have mental illness(es).

    • Have some sympathy for the train driver that had to deal with Addis choosing to take his life that way, instead of jumping off one of the many bridges in the Bay Area. The cartoon does not refer to any suicide, and shows the most public mugshot ever taken in relation to Burning Man on the body of someone drawn with a guitar, not a flare gun. No-one is saying “paul addis said xxxx” – or, in fact, Paul Addis anything. The guy has been dead for years. We’re not really mocking Kevin Bacon when he’s featured in the cartoons, or fat people (ie those who have a physical deformity) with the Exodus musical. We’re not saying “sparkle ponies are really like child’s dolls”.

      The cartoon is hardly mocking the guy, if anything it’s celebrating him. Remembering him fondly, with a kind heart, with a good sense of humor.

      You don’t think he wanted to be remembered for what he did? Then why did he do his act of vandalism while wearing full face paint, and grin like a loon in the mugshot? Why did he go on a one-man stage show tour talking about it after the event?

      Since you’re posting links to stories we’ve done on Paul Addis, try this one:


      Or this one:


      You think they’re also mocking the dead disrespectfully? He made himself a martyr for our culture through the cumulative effect of his actions.

      • Maybe you should point at your own work — and not mine — as evidence of what your attitude is toward anything. If you and I shared a common perspective, I would still be writing for you. . . but we don’t. I would never engage in the kind of disgusting mockery and libel of Paul Addis that you regularly trot out since I left.

      • “Make no mistake, Paul was mentally ill” (PATRICE MACKEY)
        really says all that needs to be said.

        “You don’t think he wanted to be remembered for what he did? Then why did he do his act of vandalism while wearing full face paint, and grin like a loon in the mugshot? Why did he go on a one-man stage show tour talking about it after the event?”

        None of that disproves his mental illness nor justifies using him as a cartoon one month, then calling him “selfish” the next….use of false dichotomies like this are a classic distraction in the blog-sphere, but someone can be grinning AND be having a breakdown, recover well enough to do a show AND kill themselves a while later.

        Are they selfish when their diseases or conditions negatively impact our fun?
        We should treat the mentally ill the way we would someone born with a birth defect or a heart condition, or cancer.

        Instead we make cartoons of them.
        We prosecute them.
        We jail them.

        “Have some sympathy for the train driver that had to deal with Addis ”
        The train driver has the option of therapy, of healing, of slowly getting better,
        the dead are dead.

        If one must make a choice I would sooner err on the side of respect for the dead than on those who witnessed their ending. Yet this choice is another false dichotomy, we can both have compassion for Addis, Wallace, the train driver and all those who witnessed the events at Element 11. Cheaply doling out compassion and understanding like it is of a limited quantity is something I’d hoped burner culture would reject like it does so many other shadows of it’s mostly judeoxtian roots.

        In the moment of the recent act of suicide it could easily be said that Mr. Wallace
        was, at least temporarily, mentally ill.
        Calling him an “asshole” or “selfish” proves that we all have a long way to go before radical inclusion includes humans who break from mental illness. Humans whose illness temporarily causes the glitter to fall off in the stark reality of their actions.

        The compassion we give extends into the world we live in, and creates the world that will dole it out when we need it.


  10. As to the last comment, about the Burn scene having a suicide problem – I really don’t think it does. I think we just care more. A suicide once every few years is not outside the norm for a population as large as the extended Burner community.

    • 2 highly visible and involved Chicago burners committed suicide within a month of each other last winter over the holidays, one by stepping in front of a vehicle on the highway, and the other by jumping off the parking deck of one of our most popular tourist attractions early morning on New Year’s Day. Is there a problem? I’d say so.

      • Why is suicide seen as inherently a problem?

        i’m not saying that those specific people weren’t in some sort of turmoil. But there are plenty of respectable reasons to end one’s life. Saying someone committed suicide tells me almost nothing about what has transpired.

        • Both men were well-loved and not without a support system. That’s what sucks about this. Even when there are notes, the survivors are left with more questions than answers, and a lifetime of guilt over whether they could have done something to intervene. I wish I could tell you what transpired, but unfortunately, the only ones who can are both dead. My heart goes out to all these men’s loved ones.

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