Black Woman, 18, Allegedly Set On Fire By Four White Men In Wisconsin

Black Woman, 18, Allegedly Set On Fire By Four White Men In Wisconsin

The heartbreaking incident that unfolded on Wednesday in Madison, Wisconsin, is currently being investigated and treated as a hate crime assault.

Image Source: Getty Images/urbazon (Representative)

In an appalling hate crime, four white men allegedly threw lighter fluid and a lighter at a biracial teenage woman. The heartbreaking incident that unfolded on Wednesday in Madison, Wisconsin, is currently being investigated and treated as a hate crime assault. The victim, who was identified as 18-year-old Althea Bernstein by local outlet, said that four men used a spray bottle to "deploy a liquid on her face and neck, and then threw a flaming lighter at her, causing the liquid to ignite." Speaking to Madison 365, a local news outlet, Bernstein alleged that the attackers first yelled "the N-word really loud" before carrying out the horrific act. 


Bernstein, who is working as an EMT while studying to be a paramedic and firefighter, told the outlet that she was on her way to her brother's house when the incident took place. It was around 1 a.m. on Wednesday when she arrived at a stoplight on Gorham Street situated near State Street in downtown Madison, although she's not sure which intersection she was at. "I was listening to some music at a stoplight and then all of a sudden I heard someone yell the N-word really loud," she recalled during the Wednesday interview, reports The Hill.


Describing the traumatic event, she continued, "I turned my head to look and somebody’s throwing lighter fluid on me. And then they threw a lighter at me, and my neck caught on fire and I tried to put it out, but I brushed it up onto my face." Eventually, she managed to put the fire out and began driving until she reached her brother. "I got it out and then I just blasted through the red light …  I just felt like I needed to get away. So I drove through the red light and just kept driving until I got to my brother and Middleton," she added.


Despite driving through red lights, the victim says she was able to drive to her brother's place and back home without significant pain as she was in shock. This state was something she regularly witnesses in other people. "I’ve had patients in shock and I know what shock is based on the textbook," she said. "It’s so incapacitating, you don’t even realize what’s going on. My brain still got me home and my brain still got me to call my mom. I just remember my face was bleeding." After she called her mother and told her about what she had been through, her mother urged her to contact their health care provider.


"They were just like, 'Wait a minute. Will you say that again? What’s happening?' I was like, yeah, I got a little toasted,'" she recalled the conversation with the nurses, where she was advised to call an ambulance. However, she decided to drive herself to the UW Hospital emergency department. During a decontamination routine, the staff believed that the liquid was lighter fluid. Bernstein, sustained second- and third-degree burns, recalled that the attackers were four white men and was reasonably certain that they "looked like classic Wisconsin frat boys … Two of them were wearing all black, and then the other two were wearing jeans and a floral shirt." She believed that the men were under the influence owing to their gait.


"They had to pretty much scrub the skin off, which was extremely painful," she said of the excruciating treatment. "At first I didn’t even believe what had happened. I grew up in Madison, on the Eastside, and my dad would take me to the Farmer’s Market every weekend, on those same streets. It just felt so weird to have these really happy memories there, and then now to have this memory that sort of ruined all of the childhood memories," she explained adding, "I never really knew someone could hate you just by looking at you. They didn’t know me. I didn’t know them. I was just driving my car and minding my own business."


In a statement, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said "this is a horrifying and absolutely unacceptable crime that I will not tolerate in Madison. While we are still learning more about the details, current information suggests this may have been a premeditated crime targeted toward people of color, which makes the incident even more disturbing." He further assured, "I spoke this morning with the victim’s family, expressing my deep sympathies for the harm this incident has caused, my wishes for her healing, and my commitment to do all I can to bring justice."

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