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Veteran protesting VA set himself on fire in front of state Capitol, GSP says

Veteran protesting VA set himself on fire in front of state Capitol, GSP says

Veteran protesting VA set himself on fire in front of state Capitol, GSP says
Photo Credit: John Spink/AJC John Spink/ AJC WSB-TV

Bomb squad outside the Georgia State Capitol

Emergency crews near the Capitol downtown. 

Veteran protesting VA set himself on fire in front of state Capitol, GSP says

A disgruntled Air Force veteran set himself on fire in front of the Georgia Capitol building Tuesday morning, police said.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has identified the veteran as John Michael Watts, 58.

Authorities said Watts drove up and parked on Washington Street, near the west entrance of the Capitol, around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. 

Police said Watts got out of the car and walked toward the Capitol, with homemade incendiary devices and fireworks on him, troopers said.

He then doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire. 

[PHOTOS: Veteran set himself on fire in front of State Capitol]

A trooper who was in the Capitol brought out a fire extinguisher and put out the flames.

'He was strapped with some home incendiary devices and fire crackers and doused himself with some kind of flammable and attempted to set himself on fire," Georgia State Patrol Captain Mark Perry said. "Almost simultaneously one of the captains saw what happened, came out and actually had a fire extinguisher. He was able to douse him quickly"

Troopers said Watts was alert and speaking after the explosion. He told them he fed up with treatment by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Watts was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital in critical condition with burns covering nearly 90 percent of his body.

No one inside or around the building was hurt in the explosion, troopers said. The Capitol and judiciary buildings were evacuated. By Tuesday night, investigators had towed his car and cleared the scene. 

Channel 2's Nefertiti Jaquez learned that the car had Florida plates. Officials know Watts is from Mableton but don't have a current address.


The blast halted a news conference by state officials across the street. Police rushed toward what they thought was gunfire and found Watts badly burned on the sidewalk. 

The bomb squad busted the window of Watts' car nearby to search for other explosives. 

Police said there was a large sign in the car’s windshield with a name and phone number.

They asked that no one call the number, in case the number was connected to a device inside or around the car.

Channel 2 Action News reached out to the V.A., where a spokesman said they can't comment on the case but that Watts will get the care he needs. 

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson tweeted that he is working with the V.A. to find out what happened. 

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