‘Burning Man’ flame-diver death ruled a suicide as family and friends struggle to understand why

The family and friends of the man who ran into a burning effigy at the Burning Man festival outside of Reno, Nevada, this summer are still struggling to understand what was going through his mind when he took his own life.

As CrimeOnline previously reported, a man since identified as 41-year-old Aaron Joel Mitchell ran past multiple layers of security surrounding the festival’s flaming centerpiece on September 2 in front of thousands of horrified onlookers in the Black Rock Desert. He was airlifted to a nearby hospital, and despite efforts to revive him, Mitchell was pronounced dead the next day.

Last week, according to the Associated Press, Sacramento County Coroner’s Office in California ruled Mitchell’s death a suicide, and determined that his cause of death was bodily shock, cardiac arrest, and third-degree burns over 97 percent of his body.

Mitchell’s mother Johnnye Mitchell told KHOU 11 that the family had not received much official information about her son’s death, other than learning that no drugs or alcohol were found in his system.

“(The coroner’s office) called one time, but we never heard anything more. It was just a short conversation,” Johnnye Mitchell told the news station.

“We’re doing pretty good, but that’s one of the hard things, we don’t know why it happened.”

Mitchell was an adventurous traveler, and met his wife, Ladina, while backpacking in Nepal. The couple lived in Switzerland at the time of his death, but Mitchell appears to have traveled to the U.S. solo to attend multiple festivals.

According to the report, Mitchell visited his parents in Oklahoma the month before died, and traveled by car to Oregon for the Eclipse Festival before driving to Burning Man. His mother told the news station that when she last heard from Aaron by phone on the way to Nevada, he sounded “festival’d out.”

Mitchell’s friend Justin Berry had been with Aaron at Burning Man for the week leading up to his death.

“He was like my mentor. He did yoga every morning. He made smoothies every morning. He was like Jesus to me,” Berry told the news station about his friend.

According to his friend, Mitchell spent time with his friends during the day at Burning Man, but frequently meditated went to bed early every night, avoiding any drugs and drinking only minimal amounts of craft beer.

On the night of the ceremonial burn, Mitchell went to spend time with some friends from Switzerland.

“I wish we had all been together, I don’t know that this would have happened,” Berry told the news station.

“Maybe in some weird way he did this for us, to inspire us to make better decisions,” Berry said.

“I wish that he could have made better decisions, because he’s not coming back from this.”


[Feature image: Facebook/Aaron Joel Mitchell]