Five months have passed since Aaron Joel Mitchell into a wall fire at ’s pinnacle celebration as the weeklong festival drew to a close. The 41-year-old — based in Switzerland — charged past Black Rock City safety rangers, who were tasked with tackling any one who tried to run towards the giant flaming effigy, and either tripped or deliberately jumped into the flames just as the fire was starting to die down. He died in a hospital 24 hours later.
The Sacramento County Coroner’s Office ficially ruled Mitchell’s death a suicide, though his physical cause death was “cardiac arrest, bodily shock, and third-degree burns on 97 percent his body.” Still, friends and family Mitchell have questions over his tragic death that will never go answered.
“T]hat’s one the hard things, we don’t know why it happened.” said Mitchell’s mother, Johnnye Mitchell. His mother was unaware any mental health issues, she said, and he was never a troublemaker. He had more friends than she could count, evidenced by the friends that showed up from all over the world to attend the multiple memorials held in his honor.
“Honestly, he was the closest thing to Jesus, in a new age way,” said a close friend who was with Mitchell the entire week before he ended his life. Mitchell avoided drug use and drank modestly throughout the burn. He even cashed in before 10pm each night, which friends attributed to him being exhausted from the heat. While Mitchell slept, his friends would take out his phone to capture selfies overnight shenanigans and return it to him in the morning hours.
Mitchell was attending Burning Man for the first time last year, according to his mother, after traveling directly from the Gathering. He phoned his mother while on the road from Oregon to Nevada, where she says Mitchell sounded “festival’d out.” It was the last time she spoke to her son.