14 People Who Have Taken Their Own Lives In Public

The act of public suicide has been used to protest wars, highlight religious oppression, and call out government corruption. Public suicide also casts a stark light on how mental illness is often overlooked or misunderstood even now. Regardless of the reason, these public suicides remain in the memories of those who witnessed them, oftentimes decades after the event itself.

In this list, we'll tell the stories of 14 people who took their own lives in public and the legacies these stories left behind.

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  • Thich Quang Duc
    Photo: Malcolm Browne / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Thích Quảng Đức, a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk, died by suicide on June 11, 1963, by setting himself on fire in the middle of a busy intersection in Saigon. Đức's self-immolation was a protest against the persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam's Roman Catholic government, as stated in a letter drafted prior to his death.

    After gathering a small group of journalists in the area, Đức sat in the meditative lotus position on a small cushion in the middle of the busy street. He was doused with gasoline, spoke a few words, and then struck a match and dropped it on himself. Đức barely moved and did not make a sound as he was engulfed in flames.

    Malcolm Browne, the Saigon bureau chief for the Associated Press, photographed the act, and his work was later named the World Press Photo of the Year.

    • Age: Dec. at 66 (1897-1963)
    • Birthplace: Hội Khánh, Vietnam
  • R. Budd Dwyer
    Photo: Robert Dwyer / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Robert Budd Dwyer, the 30th Treasurer of Pennsylvania, became embroiled in a payroll tax scandal while he was in office in the early 1980s. Dwyer was accused of accepting bribes after allegedly receiving kickbacks from a California firm contracted to investigate the payroll tax inconsistencies. Throughout the scandal, Dwyer denied the allegations yet was convicted in 1986.

    On January 22, 1987, hours before he was to be sentenced for the bribery matter, Dwyer called a public press conference in which he spoke to reporters and live television crews about his situation, including his innocence and distrust of the justice system. Dwyer then pulled a .357 Magnum from an envelope and shot himself in the head as cameras rolled.

    • Age: Dec. at 47 (1939-1987)
    • Birthplace: Saint Charles, Missouri, USA
  • MarShawn McCarrel

    MarShawn McCarrel
    Video: YouTube

    Black Lives Matter activist MarShawn McCarrel was just 23 when he shot himself on the steps of the Ohio Statehouse in 2016. No one witnessed his death, but McCarrel posted on his Facebook page earlier in the afternoon, saying, “My demons won today. I'm sorry.”

    Before his death, McCarrel had helped plan protests after a Missouri police officer shot and killed Michael Brown. He also founded a youth mentorship program Pursuing Our Dreams. Some have speculated that McCarrel's exhausting efforts to build the Black Lives Matter movement may have ultimately taken a toll on his own mental health. His last tweet read: “Let the record show that I p*ssed on the state house before I left.”

  • Jodon F. Romero

    On September 28, 2012, Jodon F. Romero, already wanted for a parole violation, stole a Dodge Caliber at gunpoint in Phoenix, AZ. He was soon located by local law enforcement officers, who followed him in a high-speed chase. Romero continued to evade police until he pulled into the desert, stopped the car, pulled out a handgun, and shot himself in the head.

    Of the many local and national television news stations that were covering the police chase live, Fox News went as far as airing Romero's suicide on national television, albeit on a five-second delay. News anchor Shepard Smith immediately apologized for the broadcast, as did Fox News Vice President Michael Clemente.