How Burning Man organizers are responding to festival attendee’s death
ABC News(PERSHING COUNTY, Nev.) — After a man died from burns suffered at Burning Man in Nevada, the festival’s organizers are focusing on the safety of its thousands of other attendees and staff with just hours left in the week-long event.
Aaron Joel Mitchell, 41, broke through “two levels” of security and into the flames earlier this weekend during one of the festival’s closing ceremonies, the Man Burn, later dying at a California hospital from his injuries, Nevada’s Pershing County Sheriff’s Office told ABC News.
“According to medical staff, Aaron was not under the influence of alcohol and a toxicology screening is pending,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
There is an ongoing investigation into Mitchell’s death, the sheriff’s office added.
In response to the incident, festival organizers and local police are focusing on the safety of the thousands of other guests who chose to stay on at the event, which is held in at the Black Rock Desert, until it officially comes to a close on Monday.
“Mr. Mitchell’s family has been advised of his death. Burning Man is working with local and federal law enforcement agencies, and an investigation is currently ongoing,” festival organizers wrote on their official site Sunday.
The statement continued, “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.”
Some of the resources for festival goers and staff include emotional support teams and peer counseling, according to organizers.
Organizers told festival goers in the statement that if they 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.”
The sheriff’s office is also offering up assistance while it works with attendees to investigate the incident.
“This event is also a tragedy to all ‘burners,'” the sheriff’s office said, using a nickname for attendees. “Especially the juveniles who are allowed to attend the festival and may not have the same coping skills as adults do when they see something this tragic happen before their eyes. The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office is extending any services we have available to assist with this tragedy.”
Mitchell was a U.S. citizen who was apparently living in Switzerland with his wife, according to the sheriff’s office.
Burning Man is a festival that has been active since 1986 with just 20 participants at the start. As attendees grew over the years, the festival moved to Black Rock in the 1990s. Since 2013, the festival has averaged around 67,000 people attending each year. In the past, the wooden effigy at the center of the closing Man Burn ceremony has reached up to 90 feet in height.
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