Early Wednesday morning, a Black teenager says she was sitting in her car when a group of white men sprayed her with lighter fluid, called her the n-word and set her on fire.
Buzzfeed News reports that the incident occurred in Madison, Wis., and is being investigated as a hate crime. Althea Bernstein, an 18-year-old EMT, was on her way to a family friend’s house around 1 a.m. when she came to a stop at a red light. According to the police report, Bernstein had her window down and was listening to music when she heard someone call her the n-word. Bernstein saw four white men in a car next to her, one of whom sprayed her with liquid and threw a lighter at her, setting her face on fire. She quickly drove away and patted out the flames. She proceeded to go to her mother’s house and was taken to a local hospital for treatment. Bernstein suffered from second- and third-degree burns as a result of the attack.
The police report states that workers at the hospital believed she was sprayed with lighter fluid. She will need multiple visits in order for her injuries to be treated. Madison police are looking through surveillance footage of the area to see if any of the attack was captured on video.
“Our family is saddened at what happened to Althea and the unprovoked attack on her body,” Bernstein’s family said in a statement. Michael Johnson, the CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, is acting as a spokesperson for the family. “It’s totally unacceptable given everything that is going on this country. It’s just unacceptable behavior that we’re just not going to tolerate.” Johnson told BuzzFeed News.
Friends of the Bernstein family reached out to Johnson after the incident occurred, and he’s been assisting the family as they work with the police and local officials. Johnson is known for his work in the community raising money for victims of police violence, including George Floyd and Michael Brown.
“[Bernstein’s parents] just wanted to make sure that their daughter heals from this. The mother, she just wants to make sure that her daughter heals and is OK.” Johnson told Buzzfeed News. According to Johnson, Bernstein is currently home with her family and doing her best to heal from the incident.