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A climate activist died after lighting himself on fire. His intentions remain unclear


On Earth Day last week, a man lit himself on fire outside the U.S. Supreme Court. The Colorado climate activist died of his injuries the next day. Colorado Public Radio's Sam Brasch reports he may have meant to bring attention to climate change, but his intentions remain unclear.

SAM BRASCH, BYLINE: After the incident last Friday evening in Washington, focus turned to Wynn Alan Bruce's Facebook profile. The professional photographer left behind many black-and-white self-portraits. They show him as slender with rounded glasses, his eyes set on the camera. His post focused on two main topics - his Buddhist faith and climate change. There's a haunting edit to one comment about irreversible global warming. It includes a fire emoji and the date of Bruce's death written by him earlier this month.

A case pending before the Supreme Court could eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to restrict climate warming emissions. His father, Douglas Bruce, says he doesn't know if that's why his son took his own life. What he could confirm was his son's passion for the natural world.

DOUGLAS BRUCE: His commitment and concern about environment and climate issues, for example, is really very heartfelt and central to he is.

BRASCH: Members of Boulder, Colo.'s, Buddhist community have given contradictory statements about Bruce's motivation. Kritee Kanko is a climate scientist and Zen priest who says she practiced with Bruce. She tweeted that Bruce planned the act for at least a year to bring attention to the climate crisis. Later, she signed a public statement with other Buddhist leaders saying no one was aware of his plans beforehand. Other friends had no clarity, just heartache.

BRIAN GROSSMAN: What he did, I don't know why he did it or how he did it.

BRASCH: Boulder sculptor Brian Grossman says he met Bruce more than a decade ago while grocery shopping. Grossman has multiple sclerosis and uses an electric tricycle. He says Bruce, who worked at the store, would help him unload it from his car. They became friends and would meet every once in a while for tea, often talking about government indifference to people and the planet. And while he respected Bruce's passion for politics, he also hopes he's remembered as just a really good guy.

GROSSMAN: He always would shake my hand and say, doing a great job, you know?

BRASCH: Grossman says he'd always have the same reply - you are, too.

For NPR News, I'm Sam Brasch in Denver.


SCHMITZ: If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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