Utah Suicide Victim Named

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.

From sltrib.com:

photo credit: Del Hargis

photo credit: Del Hargis

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.”

Memorial created in the ashes of the Element11 burn

Memorial created in the ashes of the Element11 burn

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.

57 comments on “Utah Suicide Victim Named

    • I was just discussing this with someone yesterday. You’re right that no-one (as far as we know) has associated their name with that statement publicly.

      I should point out that a few people that we did originally name as witnesses, contacted us and asked us to remove their names from our stories and photo credits. Which of course we did.

      Harry Stevens at the Tribune seems like he took the time to do some follow up interviews later in the week, including speaking to the police. Of all the coverage on the story in the press, he seems to be the most informed.

      If someone provided the mescaline to the victim at the event, they would be happy about this “pre-meditated suicide” rumor spreading. There could be other motives behind the rumor also. If anyone knows anything please speak out, it seems like this is as good a forum as any.

  1. I think that anyone who has witnessed a burn can honestly say that they have felt the intense connection with the flames. By no means would I ever do or condone this act, but there is always a moment where I wish I could live deeper inside that connection. The feelings of love, excitement and community are consuming.
    I can understand how what he has done can be seen as a selfish act, but I can also see that he has shared himself in that moment. He has shared so deeply.
    I was at a different regional burn when this happened. After hearing about this it has affected me in many ways. After processing, I have chosen to see this tragedy as an intention of gifting. John has chosen to become one with us at that moment. My prayers go out to everyone affected, but John, To you I say “Hello and welcome to this burners heart. Welcome Home.” )*(

  2. Drugs. He was most likely on a lot of drugs in an alternate reality and made a bad, permanent decision. I think it’s strange how lightly drugs are considered in this conversation.

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  4. I am the reporter from the Salt Lake Tribune who wrote the story that’s excerpted above. I’m doing a followup story on an art show being held tomorrow, proceeds from which will defray Chris Wallace’s funeral costs. If there’s anyone here who knew him and would like to share stories, memories, thoughts, etc. about Chris, please contact me.

    – Harry Stevens
    (801) 257-8715

    • As a reporter I am glad you are asking but it seems the press has said enough that isn’t true already. As a member of his camp we spoke often throughout the weekend. He was happy, funny, smart and thought provoking each time we conversed. He spoke of his wife with nothing but love in his eyes. I never once heard any mention of this so called plan or saw any indication of even a thought of him wanting to end his life. I think this was a split second mistake. I know if this plan was voiced to anyone in our group that any of us would have done something to make sure he was safe. I think that spreading word that he intended to do this without verification is an insult to his family, his marriage, his wife and to the person he was in his everyday life. Print that.

      • Thanks for your comment. I would like to include it in the story, but I can’t quote an anonymous source. Are you comfortable giving your name and age?

      • A burner name. Talon 31 year old male. You can use it but I am not sure how much good it will be. Its not new news now. We have been asked not to speak because some member words have already been twisted. Since this is not big on details it will be okay. The thought of his family having to read everyone saying awful things has make this so much harder, as well as thinking he was in a troubled state of mind and wanted this to happen is wrong. Again a horrible accident.

    • Not to completely derail things here… but as the self-identified writer of the quoted story in what world do you consider it journalistic integrity to state that he “broke through a safety barrier”? Since when does a line on the ground constitute something that requires breaking through? Horrible journalism in that sense and gives an entirely different idea than what had actually happened.

      • I was reporting what I was told by witnesses and police. Sorry that you felt it was horrible journalism. I’ll try to do better in the future.

      • I think it’s worth pointing out, however, that of the dozens of local and national outlets that reported this story, the Tribune is the only one that I know of that did a follow up.

        • thanks for staying on the story and reporting on the fundraiser, Harry. Many in the Burner community feel a personal sense of anger or outrage over this, whether they were there or not. This person so vociferously berating you on the interpretation of what “safety barrier” constitutes, also says below that they’ve never even been to one of these events.
          The extended Burning Man Organization and their network of regional minions have their own agenda , which often includes downplaying events like this or attacking their critics in online forums. I’ve been copping it all week, while they stood by and said nothing for 3 days and only provided a link to the fundraiser on their site after our community had already raised the money for the widow.
          They won’t like you printing that the victim was on mescaline, but they can’t directly comment on that, so don’t be surprised if there are attempts to shift the blame. “Shoot the messenger” is one of the favored techniques amongst this group.

          • I simply pointed out the facts, and am only surprised that there has not been a redacting of that statement. Saying that he broke through the barrier etc changes the truth of the story a great deal, and so it is important. I understand that he may have not had all the information available, and that is understandable to a degree. It is the job of a journalist to report the facts, and part of that is to get the facts.
            I have no side agenda, no affiliation with any burner anything. That doesn’t mean that I can’t look at one of the multitude of pictures and understand that this guy just ran/danced out there with absolutely no opposition. There is no interpretation to what a safety barrier is here, especially when discussing a massive burning effigy. A line on the ground, and a loosely spaced group of volunteers in no possible way constitutes a safety barrier, especially one that must be “broken through”.
            This is not “shooting the messenger” I haven’t told him he was a poor journalist, or that the story was bad, etc. I merely stated that his journalistic integrity of providing the facts was in danger by such a major error in reporting, because although a small detail, it is a very important one.

          • like you said, you weren’t there and have never even been to an event like this. So you’re pointing out your opinion, not the facts. You might not have said “you are a poor journalist”, but you did challenge his integrity and call his work “horrible journalism”. Here I *am* pointing out the facts. Your opinion should be discounted further, by your further denial of them.

          • I questioned the integrity of his statement: “In what world do you consider it journalistic integrity to state that he…” I then go on to state “horrible journalism IN THAT SENSE” in the sense that his failure to give the proper factual information (that there was no barrier, and there was nothing to break thought) completely changes the entire story. Absolutely none of this is a matter of opinion, except perhaps the level of importance one places on how much this changes the story. Still regardless of how much importance one places on the change to the story by this sentence it still is a fundamental change. He broke free of nothing, there was no barrier, and aside from people attempting to verbally stop him, no one made any real attempt at stopping him (not to say no one tried, but no one got in his way, grabbed him, got between him and the fire — no actual attempt was made).
            My never having been to an event like this does not negate my ability to identify these facts.
            Printing something that is not true goes against journalistic integrity, yes even if the journalist is unaware that it is untrue at the time.
            Changing the fundamental story through false information is poor journalism, even if the journalist is not intentionally doing so.

  5. Thanks for the article, I was very moved by poor john’s story, I hope we can send our thoughts to his family and friends and all those affected by this horrible and sad event.

    I don’t want to judge, I don’t and will never know all the facts, one thing I believe is that we can all suffer poor emotional / mental health and hope we can support and love others and reach out more, it could be anyone of us that could have been on this tragic path, RIP John you looked like a gentle soul.

  6. i was wondering if chris’ friends and/or family can provide some kind of information on why chris did this? did he intentionally plan a premedidated suicide, as one news source reported by quoting the grantsville police chief? is it true that he told his camp-mates in advance of his intentions (in which case the burning question is….why didn’t anybody say/do anything)? or was it something else entirely (ie: intense drug trip, spontaneous act, etc…)? for many people who witnessed this sad event, these still remain important, open and unaddressed questions, and any answers from those close to chris would help bring some closure to the many who were there and are left asking “why?”.

  7. I felt elevated to a state of wonder and awe by the mesmerizing, tightly choreographed pre-burn dancing, fire spinning, and drumming. The majesty and transcendence of that moment reached new heights when Sparky was lit up under the full moon, engulfed in a towering inferno, radiating a powerful heat and light that presaged a new day and bringing a new intense warmth to the desert night. For a minute or two I stood directly in front of Sparky a few feet outside the perimeter, basking in the glow, soaking in the experience, as the crowd retreated from the increasingly uncomfortable heat. I walked clockwise along the perimeter, returning toward the place I had parted from my campmates before the display began. Not quite a quarter of the way around the perimeter I encountered him sitting on the perimeter in a meditation pose, dressed only in boxer shorts, back to the inferno, eyes wide open. He glanced up at me as I approached. We had met and conversed a couple of times in the preceding days so he recognized me. Those conversations had been brief, but there was clearly a fondness between us, as we had hugged and expressed interest in meeting and talking more. I’m pretty sure that we had briefly met two years earlier also, at a barbecue my brother had invited me to in Salt Lake City.
    I don’t feel complete confidence in my memory of the next few minutes. There are some things I am positive about and some things that may have happened, but were possibly made up in the ensuing emotional turmoil. He was sitting in mediation pose on the perimeter and glanced up at me. I called his name and greeted him. I’m not sure exactly what he said but I think he responded with my name and told me he had been looking for me. We chatted about how moving the performance had been, about how inspiring the whole experience was. “Yeah, the drums. The music…” he said. There was a brief pause. Still sitting, again he looked up at me, with a wild, distant, glint in his eyes, and said, “Well… Where do we go now?” I didn’t know what he meant or how to respond. I stood for a second and then took my shirt off, extended my arms out above my head, facing the blaze, and maybe said I’d join him in enjoying the warmth and energy of the burn.
    That’s when he stood up. Without a word and without pausing he danced across the perimeter. I was stupefied. I can’t remember if I said anything. The heat was already overwhelming a few feet outside the perimeter where I stood transfixed in astonishment, unable to react. My first assumption was that he was just being a jackass, would soon buckle under the intense heat, and come running back. Time stretched out. Videos that I saw after the fact show his final dance playing out in far less time than it felt like in the moment. I maybe started screaming “No! What are you doing!? COME BACK!” By then my voice would have been one among hundreds. It was already too late.

    • Wow. I am so sorry to hear this. And thank you so much for sharing. I can’t imagine what you must be feeling right now. For some reason, this account disturbs me more than any other. When I saw it happening, I knew inside that he didn’t understand he was doing. The way that he gleefully ran into the flames with no self-preservation or hesitation… I had no idea that was even possible. I really don’t think he was connected to reality at that moment.

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  9. I was there and what I will remember about that night is how the burning community came together afterwards. People who had only known each other for a few days were genuinely concerned about each other in the aftermath. That night, I didn’t hear anyone complaining about how he “ruined the party.” This was my first burn, and despite the events of that night, I plan on going again because of how great the community was.

    • I was involved in Burning Man back in the 1990’s before it was moved off the Black Rock Desert. I went for something like 7 years in a row, the first death I remember was someone getting run over far out on the playa while they stargazed in a sleeping bag. Once people started dying the festival kinda lost it’s magic for me. My heart goes out to this man’s family, friends, and everyone in the community that is affected by this incident. When I asked Larry why he did the festival he told me it was an “artificial community” as such I expect everything we deal with in our “real” communities to follow eventually….


      John Matthews

  10. If he really did have suicidal ideation and spoke of it before the burn it seems more like a selfish act. Without knowing how long a time he pre meditated his suicide it would be hard to blame whatever recreational mind altering substance he indulged in prior to his suicide. Mental illness is mental illness no matter how you slice it. He wanted to go out knowing he would have the attention of many. He wanted to die but be always remembered. Just an opionion?

  11. “he had told people earlier in the day of his intentions to kill himself by jumping in the fire which became his funeral pyre.”


    “super acceptance of everyone and the manner in which they express themselves. ”

    Hogwash. It’s a culture like any other. One that emphatically celebrates people for what they express of themselves instead of what consumer products they own or teams they cheerlead for up until the point that is taking away from the expressions of others. Your liberty to swing your arms ends at my nose, so to speak.

    This was a cultural violation. His suicide is not a welcome “expression”.

    My sympathies lie with the multitude of survivors and I encourage the family to understand the culture he’s stolen from before condemning it. He was given the responsibility to make choices in an environment where the nerf corners of the world were taken off. He was in a supportive environment where many people would help him get back up from his mistakes. He chose a path that no one, even the ones in the moment trying desperately to intervene, could help him back up from.

    He’s stolen a lot from a multitude of people he did not know and never wronged him. I don’t condemn him as a person, but I can surely judge this action as an act of brutal selfishness and since I only know him through this act have no celebration in my heart for him.

    • There were many people with this sort of attitude after the Addis burn. It served to delineate the community into two very separate groups. In the Addis case, “Art vs Arson”. 80% of the community came out in favor of arson. Many wished Addis rape in prison and death for burning their Man early, and potentially ruining the party.

      The same mindset exists today, probably much higher than 80%. What can be done? Nothing. It’s just the new face of the Burner community = don’t fuck with our party. It’s easy to deride these types of people, but they make up most of the people in society. Go live in the woods if you don’t like them. They’re here to stay, and they are most Burners. If you don’t like them, stop serving them. Stop going to these events if these types bother you.

    • You would SUE someone’s family for the death of their loved one “Ruining YOUR party”???????????? WOW. You are just soooo enlightened

      • Robyn stated in a previous post:
        “The guy could have died alone, or around a few friends, or whatever. He chose to harm 1000+ on the way out. Yeah, rot in hell.”

        You’re just soooo enlightened Robyn. You’re like the Buddha. Or that elephant with arms thing. I think you’ve reached the nirvana.

    • Pray for John and his family. The thought of anyone saying that his family should be sued is complete NON-SENSE. What’s done is done. John’s family is suffering enough without all these hurtful, hateful and, cruel comments.

    • Sodium from the Burning Man Websites 10 principles: “Radical Inclusion” and “Radical Self-Expression”. So where in that is what I said hogwash? Your liberty to swing my arms ends at my nose… no one forced anyone to watch anything… he did not violate your liberties whatsoever. There was a fire, fire is dangerous, can cause harm, there are people, people can be unpredictable, can cause harm to themselves. Stop me when I get to a point that you weren’t aware of before hand. No one expected this, but the possibility is and was there, anyone who attended that didn’t realize that the possibility of this occurring is and should not be considered an adult, the likelihood of it happening however is a far different story.
      This is the same as people who were utterly shocked and cried for more restrictions after the crash of galloping ghost at the air races. The possibility existed, and knowing that the possibility existed people still attended. News flash, the possibility exists that when you board a plane, drive a car, ride a subway, walk down a street, plug in an appliance, use something with batteries, (among a myriad of other things) that something can go horribly wrong, but you do all of these things understanding that the likelihood is low, and you are willing to take the risk.
      The man who did this is in no way removed from his actions, and you can hold him accountable all you want, and you should… but don’t stop there… everyone else who was there is in no way removed from the responsibility of their actions.
      I have never been, nor will I ever go to one of these for a long list of reasons… but at the top: Huge fires + lots of drugs = not good things, not always, not often, but definitely more risk than reward for myself.
      Do I think other people shouldn’t go? Not at all… I am ecstatic that people have the liberty to do such things, and I hope that one persons decisions don’t impact the ability for people to continue to do what they want, so long as it does not encroach upon the liberties of others.

      On a side note, my ability to talk about this on a removed level does not mean that I don’t think that it is very sad for those watching, those who knew and loved him, and his family that loved him. It is a tragedy, and for that I am sorry that it ever happened.

      • The principles have been rewritten a number of times, usually in ways that are self-serving to BMorg aka BRC LLC. Radical Inclusion is not Absolute Inclusiveness. It’s much better termed Self Selection as that’s functionally identical. Element 11 isn’t Burning Man either.

        If you wish to Lawyer around the 10 Principles this also violates the currently enshrined Civic Responsibility, Leave No Trace, Radical Self-expression

        “the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.”
        “to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.”
        ” They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.”

        Selectively choosing “Radical Inclusion” as a catchall for excusing all anti-social behavior requires ignoring the responsibilities TO the community. So yes, it’s hogwash.


        For a more concise and clear standard I refer you to the Burning Flipside 3 principles.

        Self Expression

        Our events foster an environment of creative self-expression, where participants feel supported to honestly express their inner selves, through artistic creation, performance, and in their social interactions.


        Our events foster an environment of personal accountability, where we hold ourselves responsible for our own actions, and take personal responsibility for meeting our own needs, for the event itself, and for the event’s impact on the world at large.


        Our events foster an environment of cooperation, where participants work together to resolve potential conflicts between one another, to help mediate conflicts between others, and to create art, performance, and social spaces on a larger scale than one person could alone.

        • Don’t know how it would have violated leave no trace, and aside from following all local, state, and federal laws (how does this chalk up with the drug use?!) then I don’t think you have much there. Never excused him from his actions. You let me know when you have pictures of people being forced to watch… though the moment may have been brief, there most certainly existed one for a person to look away, get up, leave etc… or as I said before, understand the type of environment they are in, the risks that are present, and understand they made a decision about this far earlier than Saturday.

          • Wow, that is not a huge reach whatsoever. How your current life insurance status effects any of the Burning Man principles is beyond me. How many life insurance seminars, and fiscal responsibility classes were at Element 11? He could have easily passed in a car accident on the way to the event, returning from the event, or going to work the following day. Would you have scorned him for breaking the ideals of being a burner in those instances? The effects (within the context of your argument) would have been exactly the same.
            Actually in those instances the chances that the community would have pulled together to fund raise, or that stories of fundraising for him in the local news would be most likely non-existent. So in your example he actually did leave them better off in comparison to the other events.

  12. public suicide is very selfish aware of what u are doing or not,,,, its just a shame people have to try and steal the spot light at places that are supposed to be a gathering of love and unity,, clearly if he said he was going to do it before he did it he had thought of this extremely selfish thing to do before hand whatever intoxicants may have been involved mean nothing

  13. Li Stotts, I believe the total number of attendance was approximately 1200… so thousands would be inaccurate, but I understand the point you are trying to make.

    I find it rather odd that there is this general response of ‘thanks for ruining it for us dude!’
    Burning Man, and therefore E11, boasts this idea of human expression, and super acceptance of everyone and the manner in which they express themselves. You have all forms of expression from crazy cars, to decorated bikes, nudity, drug use, burning art and various other forms of craziness that goes on at these events. So this is what you get, a human expressing himself. It is what was asked for, express yourself however you want and we will accept you for it. Some may not appreciate all forms of expression that occur at these events, and I believe almost all didn’t appreciate this, but it was expression still. It was on the far end of the spectrum, and definitely didn’t take into account how it would impact others, but the Burning Man attitude tends to be respect my expression or go elsewhere.
    This doesn’t remove his impact on others, what they saw, and what they must now deal with. It also doesn’t ease the pain for family and friends. That is the tragedy. While you may say that his actions were selfish (what a nasty word thrown about by people with little to no understanding of it … remember everyone who is upset at seeing this is being selfish… or interested in their own selves well being over the wanton of one man’s actions) remember that there is a reason he choose to do it at E11. Perhaps he felt among ‘family and friends’ perhaps he thought his actions would be more understand… perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. If someone is going to do this sort of thing at the least they should get to do it their way (within reason) and he got that at the least.
    My condolences to his family, friends, and to all who witnessed.

    • But isn’t “radical self expression” about pushing everyone ELSE’s boundaries? God forbid someone push ours.

      And by all means, let’s not examine any possible problems with the festival itself. It must be a problem with some crazed and selfish individual. Right? We want to continue doing whatever we want, so let’s categorize all of this in such a way that we don’t have to change any of our own behavior.

  14. My brother committed suicide…those who do not understand mental illness are all too eager to label this act ” selfish “, ” an easy way out “, or an ” act of cowardice “…my brother was none of these things…I cannot pretend to know what lead this man to kill himself in such a horrific manner but I DO understand severe depression and suicidality…I can only offer my prayers to those who endured this and to the deceased and his family.

  15. How can you even say this guy wasn’t selfish. He took his life in front of thousands of people who are now going to have to live with such a vivid horrific image the rest of their lives. This guy was a very selfish individual. I feel sorry for the people that had to be subjected to his stupid act of selfishness, and I feel sorry for his friends and family, but I say good riddance to the idiot who took his life in a way that not only affected him and his family, but affected thousands of others.

    • Yes, he should have done what WE wanted him to do – not what HE wanted to do – how selfish he is. Whereas we’re magnanimous for wanting others to do what we want them to. It’s his life. Death exists. It is selfish to think we have the right to insist how others should act. If you like it or not is not the issue.

  16. “It’s more likely that he was caught up in the moment and unaware of the danger he put himself in.”

    Hard to believe that when he supposedly talked about killing himself in the fire and then successfully did it.

    • So far, the only evidence that he talked about doing this beforehand is a verbal statement from Lt. Barrett that’s been repeated in nearly every article; I don’t know that we’ve heard this from anyone who was present, and it’s possible that what Lt. Barrett said isn’t true. It’s very hard to imagine that he could clearly and publicly state that kind of intention without serious discouragement or follow-up, even if such a statement could have been construed as a joke.

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