Airman who lit himself on fire did not fit the profile of most who commit self-immolation

By Michael Swaney

When most think of those who have committed self-immolation in protest of war, they probably think of the infamous Buddhist monk in 1963 but statistics show that those who do this are statistical outliers.

The mind of the Airman who recorded himself committing self-immolation in protest of the war in Gaza on Sunday has become a leading topic of discussion on social media.

Many have speculated he must have been suffering from some sort of mental illness that was the real underlying motivation for his act.

But 25-year-old Aaaron Bushnell does not fit the bill for the typical person who commits these acts, according to studies.

According to a study in Iran, at Shahid Mohammadi Hospital of Bandar Abbas, research findings indicate that the self-immolation attempters were mostly among singles, females, low literates or illiterates, and housewives within the age group of 10-30 years old.

The most significant cause of their acts was “family problems,” which was associated with 43 percent of the group in the study.

However, studies conducted in different parts of the world have reached different findings.

A study from 1973 to 2010, found that those who commit self-immolation in low-income countries are more likely to be female with psychiatric records and those in high-income countries are likely to be male.

In Germany, a study of 46 cases of self-immolation (36 males and 11 females) from 1990 to 2000, found separation and financial problems as the main causes.

Only two in the study were motivated by political reasons but 65% of the cases had records of psychological disorders.

43 percent were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the suicide.

A more recent Serbian study found a significant increase (37 percent) in suicide attempts by self-immolation during the COVID-19 pandemic and an increased frequency of pre-existing psychiatric illness among patients during the pandemic period.

Bushnell served as a cyber defense operations specialist with the 531st Intelligence Support Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio but much about his personal life outside of his military service and volunteer work is still unknown.

According to Lupe Barboza of the San Antonio Care Collective, Bushnell had volunteered with the Care Collective to offer support to the city’s unhoused population.

“It didn’t feel like real life. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It still doesn’t feel like like it happened,” she told Texas Public Radio.

Barboza said Bushnell regularly used his own money to purchase blankets, sweaters, and snacks to give out to the homeless in the area.

She believes he developed deep friendships with the people living in homeless encampments.

The only known person to have contact with him before he committed suicide was a friend who has chosen to remain anonymous.

“I hope you’ll understand. I love you,” Bushnell wrote in a message reviewed by The Washington Post. “This doesn’t even make sense, but I feel like I’m going to miss you.”

In addition to the message, he sent them a copy of his will, in which he gave them a fridge full of root beers and assigned ownership of his cat to his neighbor.

His relationship with his own family is still unknown and as of now, none have come forward to state he reached out to them.

“He took all the steps he needed to make sure that everything he had would be cared for, like his cat, he designated that to his neighbor. … So yeah, that to me is all the sense of someone who was measured and knew what he was doing,” said Barboza, who also saw the will.

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