Just Another Guy with Opinions

Homeless Man Set Ablaze

Posted by shadmia on October 11, 2008

This is the kind of story that makes you wonder why there is so much evil in the world. The respect for human life (regardless of social status) should be so ingrained into our belief systems, that to willfully cause the death of a helpless individual should be anathema to every living soul.

The burning death of a homeless man for no apparent reason, other than the “pleasure” of doing it, should impress upon us the realization that there are some truly evil people living amongst us. This is the story of how “John” a homeless man, who by all accounts never bothered anyone, met his untimely death at the hands evil incarnate.

Police and Firefighters responded to a call about 9:40 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 9th on 3rd Street between Berendo Street and New Hampshire Avenue in the Mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles. They found a homeless man who had been doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire. The man, who paramedics thought was about 50 years old, had burns over 90 percent of his body. The victim, who was taken to hospital, was later pronounced dead, authorities said.

“This is one of cruelest crimes you can imagine,” said Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz, who oversees LAPD’s Rampart Division. “Pouring gasoline on a human being and setting them on fire. As an officer who has responded to many murders over the years, this is amongst the most horrific.”

“To murder somebody who’s probably suffering from mental illness issues and not bothering anyone — just a poor wretch on the street — you’ve got to be a soulless nitwit to do something like this,” he said.

The police were canvasing the area, talking to people and looking for clues. A man in his 20s was seen throwing gasoline on the man, chasing him, throwing more on him and running from the scene, said Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz. Scorch marks stained a wall where the man was burned.

Capt. Dennis Cremins said police were looking for at least one man who was seen running from the scene. He was described as a Latino in his 20s, with short brown hair and a large black T-shirt. Cremins said police believe the man may have bought gasoline in the neighborhood and used it in the attack. A red plastic gas container was found at the scene.

Jose Antonio Gonzalez, who owns a vitamin shop near where the man was found, said some longtime residents called the man Johnny and believed he had fought in the Vietnam War and had a wealthy family somewhere. Gonzalez didn’t know whether the stories were true.

Shopkeepers said the man was a fixture in the dense residential neighborhood at the northern edge of Koreatown, and residents were shocked to hear about his violent death. The homeless man, who some called “John” and described him as Buddha-like and unassuming, had been in the area for at least 20 years but never bothered anyone or begged for money, said Young Kim, who owns a nearby dry cleaner. People gave him food, clothes and spare change.

“His priorities were cigarettes, Dr Pepper, hot Cheetos and, once a week, he would buy C batteries” for his radio, said Asit Bhowmick, the Bangledeshi owner of the Bengal Liquor store.

Regulars at the California Donut shop bought him coffee and doughnuts in the mornings, a couple of Asian men took him for showers and a haircut, and poor Central American and Mexican immigrants would give him spare change or food.

“He didn’t seem to have mental problems. He understood and spoke well. I don’t know why he lived on the street,” Kim said.

About 9:30 p.m. Thursday, Jorge Garcia, owner of La Morenita Oaxaquena restaurant, said he was at work when a woman ran inside the restaurant, screaming for a fire extinguisher. He ran outside to find the man lying on his back in a nearby parking lot, his body still ablaze.

The man’s clothes had been burned off, his face blackened and swollen, the tips of his clenched fingers sloughed off. The smell of gasoline hung in the air.

“There’s no name for what they did to him,” Garcia said.

On Friday, some of the homeless man’s belongings remained at the scene, including a bag of food from McDonald’s, a yellow pear and a gray sweat shirt and shorts. A charred jacket lay on a white cardboard box nearby. “This is one of the jackets that someone used to try to put the flames out,” said Dinora Morales, 30, a baker at the doughnut shop.

Andy Bales, chief executive of the Union Rescue Mission on downtown’s Skid Row, said the incident was “part of a long history of people attacking vulnerable homeless individuals in Los Angeles.

“They think the person is less than human because they happen to be homeless. I don’t know how you could do that to another human being,” Bales said.

Luis Ortega, who works in the neighborhood, looked along the street full of botanical shops, ethnic restaurants and cigar shops. He said justice would prevail.

“Karma is coming,” Ortega said. “Karma is going to come and get whoever did this.”

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2 Responses to “Homeless Man Set Ablaze”

  1. ruby said

    I use to see this man all the time by the donut shop he would never do harm to any1 its sad to see and hear what happened to him may God take care of him he’s not in this crummy world anyways

  2. […] Benjamin Mathew Martin, 30, was arrested at about 11:45 am on Jan. 22 2009 for setting a homeless man ablaze, killing him while he slept. The homeless man was later identified as John Robert McGraham, 55. The killing of John McGraham, which occurred on Oct 9 2008, garnered significant media attention both because of the brutal nature of the attack and because the attack occurred without any provocation. Read the full story here. […]

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