NJ man who set self on fire in U.S. capital was mentally ill: family

Vanessa Sink handout photo shows first responders and people assisting a man who apparently set himself on fire at the National Mall in Washington

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First responders and people assist a man who apparently set himself on fire at the National Mall in Washington in this October 4, 2013 handout photo by Vanessa Sink. The man was rushed to a local hospital, officials said, and was conscious and breathing when he was taken to the hospital. REUTERS/Vanessa Sink/Handout via Reuters (UNITED STATES - Tags: CIVIL UNREST HEALTH SOCIETY) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION WILL BE PROVIDED SEPARATELY

By Dave Warner

MOUNT LAUREL, New Jersey (Reuters) - A New Jersey man who died after setting himself on fire in the heart of the U.S. capital last week had long battled mental illness, his family said on Tuesday.

The death of John Constantino, 64, who set himself ablaze on Friday on the National Mall, remained under investigation by the Washington, D.C., police.

His family members said in a statement they were "shocked and deeply saddened" by the violent death of their "loving father and husband."

"His death was not a political act or statement, but the result of his long battle with mental illness," his family said in a statement released by attorney Jeffrey Cox.

Neighbors in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, said they were stunned that the pleasant retiree they knew was the same man who set himself on fire, just one day after Washington was rattled by a car chase that ended with the driver being shot dead outside the U.S. Capitol.

"He was very friendly and showed no signs of depression," said Regina Horner, who lives a few doors down from Constantino's modern tan-and-green townhouse, decorated with a Halloween pennant with smiling pumpkins.

When Constantino saw Horner's husband outside, he would often come over to chat with him, she said.

"He did not want to talk about politics because the government did not care about us," Horner recalled.

In a statement, the family of Constantino, who had three adult children, thanked the paramedics and bystanders who tried to save his life.

Bystanders used their shirts to attempt to put out the fire as tourists and joggers watched in horror.

Constantino was conscious when he was taken by helicopter to Washington Hospital Center, but died from his injuries that night, police said.

"It is now apparent that he set himself on fire," the city's Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement released late on Monday.

(Additional reporting by Colleen Jenkins and Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Scott Malone, Ellen Wulfhorst, Jeffrey Benkoe and Gunna Dickson)

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