Aaron Joel Mitchell, 41, of Switzerland, bypassed two security perimeters this weekend at Burning Man‘s Man Burn event, where he then sprinted into the large, ablaze wooden effigy. Fire rescue made immediate attempts to rescue the attendee, but were hindered due to impending circumstances — all attempts had to be delayed until the structure collapsed. Mitchell was airlifted to the UC Davis Burn Center in California, where he was officially pronounced dead hours later on Sunday morning.
Authorities are currently investing whether motives were suicidal or if his actions were influenced by drugs or alcohol. The toxicology report is pending at the time of writing.
While organizers at the festival had canceled burns through noon on Sunday they made the decision to proceed with the 8 p.m. temple burn — a signature event of the nine-day festival — prior to its conclusion Monday. The festival has also made an updated statement via the Burning Man Journal following the passing of Mitchell, encouraging the community to come together.
We’re aware this incident has affected not only those who responded immediately on the scene, but also those who witnessed it, and our Black Rock City community more broadly. We are working to make resources available to those affected. Here are some available now:
Emotional support teams have been made available to participants and staff. For people on playa, the Zendo Project is providing peer counseling at their space at 5:15 & A. Support staff from our Emergency Services Department’s Crisis Intervention Team are stationed at 3:00 & C, 9:00 & C, and 5:30 & Esplanade. Please seek them out.
If you are not on playa and are feeling the need to talk to someone, don’t wait. You can reach 24/7 crisis and suicide hotlines at 1-800-273-8255 or 775-784-8090. You can also text LISTEN to 839863.
Now is a time for closeness, contact and community. Trauma needs processing. Promote calls, hugs, self-care, check-ins, and sleep. We have found this article helpful for understanding how trauma affects us: “A New Normal: Ten Things I’ve Learned About Trauma”.
More than 70,000 people are attending the art and music celebration in the Black Rock Desert, about 100 miles north of Reno this year.