The Madison Police Department and the FBI have launched a hate crime investigation after a biracial teen was set on fire inside her car. The incident took place on Wednesday when the victim, 18-year old Althea Bernstein, was stopped at a red light.
She heard someone yell out a racist slur. When she looked out, she saw four white men. Just then, one of them sprayed a liquid on her neck and face, before throwing a flaming lighter that ignited the liquid.
She patted the flames and drove home. Her mother encouraged her to go to the hospital and she drove to the ER by herself. Later that day, she called 911 to report the incident.
She told ABC's 'Good Morning America' on Friday that she never thought such a thing could happen. She said, once the incident happened, she didn't remember anything, but that the brain has a fight or flight response that takes care of you.
The incident took place while she was driving to her brother's place. She added that she went through a textbook shock and hasn't been able to sleep properly. Commenting on the four men, she said that seeing the responses, they would know they hurt her and that she hopes that they choose to improve themselves.
What Did Police Say?
Police are treating the incident as a hate crime. They are trying to obtain Berstein's hospital records and the investigators are looking at surveillance images to see if the incident was captured on camera, Madison police spokesperson Joel DeSpain said in a statement.
Madison Mayor Issues Statement
In her statement, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway described the incident as horrifying and unacceptable, and that she'll not tolerate this in Madison. Although the investigation is underway, she said that the available information suggested it was a premeditated crime targeted toward people of color. She has urged the police to use all available resources to catch the perpetrators as quickly as possible.