The Salt Lake Tribune has identified the man who died at the Element11 Regional Burn on Saturday night. He was John Christopher Wallace, of Salt Lake City, in his late 20’s or early 30’s. According to the police, he had told people earlier in the day of his intentions to kill himself by jumping in the fire which became his funeral pyre.
A joyous festival was cut tragically short Saturday night when a man burned to death after leaping into a huge ceremonial bonfire.
As a three-story wooden effigy, inspired by the creatures from Where the Wild Things Are, burned to mark the culmination of the Element 11 festival in Grantsville, hundreds of festival-goers watched in horror as Christopher Wallace of Salt Lake City broke through a safety barrier, danced wildly for a few moments and ran full speed into the flames.
Fire safety rangers were unable to stop Wallace from tossing himself into the inferno. Witnesses said they saw Wallace’s hand rise up from the flames as he died.
Wallace, who was in his late 20s or early 30s, had told other festival-goers earlier in the day that he planned to kill himself by jumping into the burning effigy, said Grantsville police Lt. Steve Barrett.
“This is what he was going to do, and it’s what he did,” Barrett said, adding that neither security rangers nor firemen could have prevented Wallace from killing himself. “It took not even seconds. He was just through the barricades and into the fire.”
Grantsville police reviewed video footage recorded by witnesses before determining that Wallace’s death was a suicide. The effigy had been burning for about 30 minutes when Wallace leapt into the fire at about about 11 p.m. Saturday, said Grantsville police Lt. Steve Barrett. Firefighters on scene tried to extinguish the flames but could not save Wallace.
“It was shocking to everybody,” said Grantsville Mayor Brent Marshall, who did not witness the burn but visits the event site each year to perform a safety inspection. Marshall expressed his sympathy not only for the family of the dead man but also for the people who witnessed the suicide.
“Horrific things get embedded into people’s minds,” Marshall said. “It’s a tragedy any way you want to look at it.”
A former co-worker, Benthewicked, has shared more information on Reddit:
John Christopher Wallace was his full name. I knew him in a professional capacity, so all of his emails were labelled “John Wallace.” His closest friends called him Christopher, but I’m not comfortable calling him that. He was my copy editor, and a brilliant one. I’d get articles back from him, and they’d be riddled with corrections, but when my employee evaluation came up, he marked me as a superb writer. I listened closely to him when we went out to lunch, and I got on a music email chain, where the two of us and a handful of other employees would recommend two or three songs each week. When he quit, I was upset, and I jokingly asked him to stay.
What makes me angriest at myself for this whole situation is the fact that just last week, I was thinking about him. Usually, if I think about a former co-worker, I’ll hit them up on Facebook, but for whatever reason, I let myself get busy. I know that my message wouldn’t have changed anything, but I hate myself for not getting a chance to let him know how much I appreciated working with him.
The point that I’m really trying to make is that his suicide was an accident. He was a really great guy, and I don’t want any of you trying to judge his whole life based on the one minute before his life ended.
…I’d like to say that John (the victim) was not an asshole and not selfish. After watching the video, it’s clear to me that he was not in his right mind. I have trouble believing he wanted to die. It’s more likely that he was caught up in the moment and unaware of the danger he put himself in.
I wasn’t very close to John, especially in the ten months since he switched jobs. I’d read his Facebook posts from time to time but that’s as much of a relationship that I maintained. Last week, I was thinking about how much I owe him for where I am at my job, but I didn’t even hop online to tell him I was thinking about him.
I’m going to listen to the music he recommended while we still worked together. I just feel the need to remember him for the great person he was.
Burning Man has finally acknowledged the death on their official blog.
For anyone traumatized by this tragic event, there are links to support groups at the bottom of this story.