The scene where a man set himself on fire outside...

The scene where a man set himself on fire outside the of the hush money trial for Donald Trump in Manhhattan on April 19, 2024. Credit: Ed Quinn

This story was reported by Tom Brune, Anthony M. DeStefano, Janon Fisher, Nicole Fuller and Michael O'Keeffe. It was written by O'Keeffe.

A former Long Island resident died shortly before midnight Friday hours after he set himself on fire near the Manhattan courthouse where 12 jurors and six alternates were being seated in the historic hush money trial of former President Donald Trump.

The NYPD identified the man as Maxwell Azzarello, 37, of St. Augustine, Florida, who officials said promoted anti-government conspiracy theories. It remained unclear why Azzarello, who died at a Manhattan hospital, self-immolated outside the courthouse. 

Azzarello worked for the campaign of Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) in 2013, when the now-congressman was defeated in the race for Nassau County Executive by Edward Mangano. 

“Max Azzarello worked for Tom Suozzi's campaign for Nassau County Executive in 2013 as part of the field staff,” said Betsy Davidson, a spokeswoman for Suozzi. “Congressman Suozzi hasn't seen or talked to him since then. We are all keeping Max and his family in our prayers.”

NYPD Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny said it appeared that Azzarello drove from Florida to the city between April 13 and Friday, when he was seen walking from nearby Leonard Street into Collect Pond Park.

The family was unaware he was traveling to New York, police said. Family members could not be reached for comment Friday.

Azzarello set himself ablaze at about 1:35 p.m., across the street from the courthouse where Trump is on trial for allegedly falsifying records to cover up a sex scandal before the 2016 presidential election.

Edmund Quinn, a Newsday photographer, said he saw a man in a gray short-sleeve shirt pour a liquid on his face and clothing. The man then set himself on fire.

The man took a few steps and waved his arms as bright yellow flames engulfed his body, according to Quinn, who captured the gruesome scene on video. The video shows the man walking a few feet as his body burned and witnesses screamed.

“The male takes a couple of steps while he’s on fire, some of the accelerant that spilled on the ground is also on fire. Civilians, court officers and police officers, they run into the park and they make efforts to put him out,” NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey said. “They use coats, fire extinguishers. Eventually, the FDNY responds. They were able to get the male extinguished.”

Before he set himself ablaze, Azzarello tossed numerous pieces of paper in the air that appeared to propaganda in nature, police said. Kenny said the pamphlets discussed Ponzi schemes and alleged that local educational institutions are involved with the mob.

“A little conspiracy theory going on here,” Kenny said.

The pamphlets blew over to the park fence. They were printed on pink, yellow and blue paper sheets of paper. Some read, “The True History of the World. ”

Emergency responders arrived a few minutes later and placed the badly burned man onto a stretcher and into an ambulance. FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said Azzarello was taken to the NewYork-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center burn unit, where he was intubated and listed in critical condition. Several court officers and civilians suffered minor injuries trying to extinguish the blaze.

Maddrey said Azzarello was not at any time in danger of breaching the courthouse security cordon set up for the Trump trial.

“This gentleman did not breach our security protocols. The park was open at the time,” Maddrey said. He said police are reviewing the security protocol.

NYPD officials cautioned that the investigation is in the early stages. Trump and his security team are aware of the incident.

The Collect Pond Park is on the site of the old Tombs jail from the 19th century, which was also the place were convicted criminals of the era were hanged, according to historical records. The park gets its name from an old body of water which occupied the site.

Azzarello is a 2005 graduate of North Shore High School in Glen Head, according to public records. He lived in Sea Cliff between 2001 and 2022, according to the records.

A man named Max Azzarello posts anti-government conspiracy theories on his Substack page, entitled “The Ponzi Papers.”

“My name is Max Azzarello, and I am an investigative researcher who has set himself on fire outside of the Trump trial,” the man wrote Friday.

“To my friends and family, witnesses and first responders, I deeply apologize for inflicting this pain on you,” the post said. “But I assure you it is a drop in the bucket compared to what our government intends to inflict.”

With Lorena Mongelli

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