An American who was freed from North Korea with the help of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has died after he was found ablaze in a field in San Diego, officials said on Tuesday. It is being treated as a suicide or accident.
The incident happened at about 11:30 p.m. PT last Friday when the San Diego Police Department received a call regarding a person on fire in the field along 5200 Pacific Highway in the city’s Mission Bay Park neighborhood.
“An off-duty California Highway Patrol officer was driving westbound on Pacific Highway when he saw the person on fire and stopped to render aid. San Diego Fire Rescue also responded to assist,” Lt. Todd Griffin said. “Fire personnel pronounced the man deceased at the scene.”
The victim was later identified as 38-year-old Aijalon Gomes, who recently relocated to San Diego from Boston, Massachusetts.
“The preliminary investigation indicates the death is not a homicide but rather an accidental death or suicide,” Lt. Griffin said. Both the San Diego Metro Arson Strike Team and the San Diego Police Department’s Homicide Unit are involved in the investigation.
A final determination on the cause of death has not yet been made, but friends told NBC San Diego that they had concerns about Gomes’ state of mind in the days before his death. He was reportedly homeless.
Gomes, who previously worked as a teacher, was arrested in January 2010 when he illegally crossed into North Korea from China. He was sentenced to eight years in a labor and re-education camp and ordered to pay a fine of $600,000.
Months later, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter flew to North Korea on a private mission and apologized to head of state Kim Yong-nam for Gomes’ actions. As a result, North Korea issued a special pardon and allowed Gomes to leave.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the U.S. Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, a free and 24/7 service that can provide suicidal persons or those around them with support, information and local resources.
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