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October 30, 2014

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Family: Man who set himself on fire was mentally ill

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AP Photo/Katy Scheflen

In this photo provided by Katy Scheflen, people run to a man who set himself on fire on the National Mall in Washington, Friday, Oct. 4, 2013. The reason for the self-immolation was not immediately clear and the man’s identity was not disclosed.

Updated Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013 | 12:13 p.m.

Man on Fire at National Mall

A fire investigator and K-9 dog investigate the scene on the National Mall in Washington, where, according to a fire official, a man set himself on fire Friday, Oct. 4, 2013.  The official said the man was flown by helicopter to a hospital. Launch slideshow »

MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. — The death of a New Jersey man who set himself on fire on the National Mall was the result of his long fight with mental illness, not a political statement, his family said.

John Constantino, 64, of Mount Laurel, N.J., poured the contents of a canister of gasoline on himself in the center portion of the mall Friday afternoon, police said. He then set himself ablaze, with passing joggers taking off their shirts to help put out the flames.

Police had said Constantino conscious and breathing at the scene, but he died later that night at a Washington hospital.

"John Constantino was a loving father and husband. His death was not a political act or statement, but the result of his long battle with mental illness," his family said in a statement issued through lawyer Jeffrey Cox.

After he set himself on fire, there was speculation about whether his self-immolation was an effort to protest the federal government shutdown, President Barack Obama's health insurance overhaul, or anything else.

The statement did not address the nature of the mental illness, and Cox said he did not know Constantino's occupation or other biographical details. He also said that funeral arrangements had not been finalized.

The family said in the statement that it "would like to acknowledge the heroism of the paramedics and bystanders who attempted to save" Constantino.

The family "is shocked and deeply saddened," the statement said. Describing the incident as a "personal family matter and not an issue of public concern," it asked that the media respect its request for privacy.

Constantino had lived in a townhome in the Philadelphia suburb of Mount Laurel since the unit was built in 1989, property records show. No one answered the door Tuesday at the house, where freshly planted chrysanthemums were in front.

Several neighbors said they didn't know Constantino. Some who did said he was a good man and that his death was a surprise.

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