ATHENS, Ala - The Athens Police Chief say they believe a man was trying to kill himself when he set himself on fire in the Walmart parking lot Thursday night.
Athens Police Chief Floyd Johnson said bystanders told officers a man doused himself with gasoline and ran into the store. He then came back out to the parking lot and set himself on fire, Johnson said.
An Athens city spokesperson said firefighters responded to the call at 6:41 p.m. and when they arrived at the store, they found Athens police officers putting the fire out with extinguishers they had in their patrol cars.
Athens Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Toby Carter said the man was taken to Athens-Limestone Hospital's emergency room until medical transport by helicopter was available.
The founder of one organization Hearts For Homeless tells WHNT News 19 the man was flown to Vanderbilt where he is being treated for his burns.
Helping The Homeless
Larry Pierce and Angie McElyea run the charity, Hearts For Homeless, and deliver food to the homeless every week.
"We work in Athens and Madison. Every week on Saturday we take out canned food, hygiene products, and Gatorade, clothing," Larry Pierce said.
It was through their organization that they learned about a man this week who needed help.
"Our community here is good about letting us know about people who are in need. They contacted us. Angie and I have been trying to find him all week," Pierce said.
Thursday night they got another call, one they now wish they didn't receive. They were told the man they were trying to find lit himself on fire at Walmart.
"The employees at Walmart are amazing, they tried to help the young man, both inside the store and outside the store and customers even followed him outside the store," Pierce said.
The founders of Hearts for Homeless say this incident shows the community needs a better way to help people. Athens doesn't have a homeless shelter and they think that needs to change.
"We could go talk to someone 24/7 about his mental condition. He could reach out for help," he said.
They say the number of homeless people in the community continues to grow.
"Every day. We find new homeless faces every day," Angie McElyea said.
They say ignoring it, won't make it go away.
The co-founders of the organization say that the man was severely burned on the lower half of his body, but they say he is in stable condition.
You can join the Hearts for Homeless Facebook group where you can find ways to help the homeless right here in the Tennessee Valley.