Secret Service first to respond to Airman Aaron Bushnell's fatal self-immolation protest outside Israeli Embassy in D.C.

 February 27, 2024

Some Americans have exceptionally strong feelings about the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and have engaged in various forms of protest to make their stance on the situation publicly known.

Few, if any, have acted in as extreme a manner as Aaron Bushnell, 25, the U.S. Air Force Airman who committed suicide via self-immolation in protest outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington D.C. on Sunday, according to NBC News.

Shouting "Free Palestine" as he burned, it was U.S. Secret Service agents who first arrived on the scene and extinguished the flames that engulfed Bushnell's body before local D.C. firefighters and paramedics showed up moments later to try unsuccessfully to save the man's life.

Secret Service first to respond

Newsweek reported that it obtained a copy of the public incident report from the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department which revealed that at around 1 pm Sunday, the Secret Service Uniformed Division "received a distress call regarding an individual exhibiting signs of mental distress outside the Israeli embassy."

The report continued, "Before the Secret Service officers could engage, the individual, referred to as Subject-1 (SUB-1), doused himself with an unidentified liquid and set himself on fire."

"The Secret Service officers promptly intervened, extinguishing the flames before the arrival of the fire department. SUB-1 was subsequently transported to a local hospital due to the burns sustained from the incident," the report added. "Despite all lifesaving efforts, Sub-1 died and was pronounced dead by Dr. Hui Zheng at 2006 hours."

"About to engage in an extreme act of protest"

Just before his fatal act of self-immolation as an act of protest, according to Newsweek, Bushnell filmed himself as he walked toward the Israeli Embassy in D.C. and said, "My name is Aaron Bushnell, I am an active-duty member of the United States Air Force, and I will no longer be complicit in genocide."

"I am about to engage in an extreme act of protest, but compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers, it's not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class has decided will be normal," he added.

As he arrived in front of a gated driveway outside the embassy, Bushnell, wearing his military fatigues, set his camera on the ground, doused himself in a flammable liquid, then lit himself on fire, shouting "Free Palestine" a few times as he staggered around before ultimately collapsing to the concrete.

It was likely less than a minute later that Secret Service agents showed up with fire extinguishers to put out the flames, but the mortal damage had likely already been done and, as the D.C. police incident report revealed, Bushnell was pronounced dead at the hospital a few hours later.

Bushnell's commander expressed "deepest sympathies" to family and friends following "tragedy"

According to the Air & Space Forces Magazine, Bushnell was originally from Whitman, Massachusetts, and first enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in May 2020. He had achieved the rank of Senior Airman and had several service awards and medals to his credit.

He was reportedly stationed at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas as part of the 531st Intelligence Support Squadron, where he worked as a "cyber defense operations specialist" assigned to the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Wing.

"When a tragedy like this occurs, every member of the Air Force feels it," 70th ISR Wing Commander Col. Celina Noyes said in a statement. "We extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Senior Airman Bushnell. Our thoughts and prayers are with them, and we ask that you respect their privacy during this difficult time."

The incident is reportedly being jointly investigated by local D.C. police, the Secret Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

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