Prominent Lawyer Dies After Setting Self On Fire In Prospect Park


PROSPECT PARK – Following up on a call about a fire in Prospect Park at approximately 6:15am Saturday morning, police discovered a horrific scene—the remains of 60-year-old David Buckel, a prominent gay rights lawyer and environmental activist who set himself on fire to make a statement about environmental pollution caused by fossil fuels.

Police found Buckel’s charred remains at approximately 6:30am near the baseball fields and main loop of the Park, the New York Times reports. Buckel left a note in a nearby shopping cart which he also emailed earlier to the New York Times at 5:55am on Saturday. According to the paper, the note states: “Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather. Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result—my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”

Buckel, who lived near Prospect Park, was known nation-wide for his efforts in championing gay rights, including same-sex marriage, while working for Lambda Legal, a non-profit, national organization that fights for the civil rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. He was the lead attorney on the Brandon v. Richardson County case in which a sheriff in Falls City, Nebraska was found liable in his failure to protect Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was raped and later murdered in 1993. The case was the basis for the 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry.

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In response to Buckel’s self-immolation, Lambda’s Acting Legal Director, Camilla Taylor, issued a statement that includes: “David also led Lambda Legal’s work to secure justice and accountability for the murder of Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was brutally raped and then killed by his rapists after law enforcement failed to intervene.”

“Our thoughts and condolences go out to all those who loved David. We have lost a movement leader, a colleague, and a friend. We will honor his life by continuing his fight for a better world,” Taylor’s message added.

Following his retirement in 2008, Buckel became “a king of compost” and a committed environmental activist who worked as an organizer, fundraiser, and volunteer coordinator for the Red Hook Community Farm, the New York Daily News reports. He was a strong supporter of community composting and opposed the use of fossil fuels, refusing even to use fossil fuel-burning machines at the composting site, according to a second New York Times report.

Buckel leaves behind a college-aged daughter, Hannah, whom he raised with his partner of 34 years, Terry Kaelber. Family and friends said that Buckel had become upset over “the national politics of climate change,” the New York Times reports. Kaelber told the paper, “He was very much someone who felt like he always wanted to make sure that while he was alive that he was doing more to make the world a better place. And he wanted to give more than he was taking from it.”

“My early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves,” Buckel wrote in his suicide note, according to the Daily News. “Our present grows more desperate,” he added.

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