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.

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