A 58-year-old Wal-Mart employee who said he "couldn't take it anymore" lit himself on fire outside the Bloomingdale store where he worked late Thursday night and was later pronounced dead at a hospital, authorities said this morning.
In an interview, his son said his father went to work last night with nothing seeming out of the ordinary. "This had nothing to do with the economy. I want to make that clear," he said, adding that the family may never know the reason for the public suicide.
The Carol Stream man, who worked the overnight shift, was in a parking lot of an adjacent sporting goods store in the west suburban strip mall when he set himself on fire with lighter fluid around 10 p.m., said Randy Sater, a watch commander with the Bloomingdale Police Department.
At least 10 people, including some teenagers, witnessed the suicide and several attempted to help the man by throwing their coats on top of him in an effort to put out the flames, he said.
"He said he didn't want any help and threw the coats off," Sater said.
When one of the first officers tried to speak to the man, who by that time was severely burned, he responded, "I just couldn't take it anymore," Sater said, citing the officer's report.
The man "enjoyed his job and living in the 'burbs," his son said. "We were getting ready to redo the front lawn." He added that his father had no health problems.
"You try not to ask yourself the question [why he did it] because there's no answer," the son said.
A store manager, who identified himself only as Erwin, had no explanation for the suicide. he said the man had not been laid off.
Wal-Mart corporate spokesman Dan Fogleman said the man had worked for Wal-Mart for a little over 7 years, most recently as an overnight stocker. He said he had spoken with a member of the store's management who described him as "a good guy and fun to be around."
He called the suicide "a tragic situation, and our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and family."
Wal-Mart was cooperating with authorities in their investigation, he said, but he declined to "speculate" on whether the man had been in to work last night before the incident or had spoken with any employees.
"That's not something we'd be able to share publicly," Fogleman said, saying those issues are considered personnel matters.
The man was rushed to Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove before being transferred to the burn unit at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood. He was pronounced dead there at 12:42 a.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.
A woman who answered the phone at the family's Carol Stream home and identified herself as his cousin said the family was grieving and declined further comment.