Robert Efford saw a man in Van Nuys set ablaze Monday morning. The victim suffered burns to his neck and hands, and by late Monday evening no arrests had been made. Kim Baldonado reports from Van Nuys for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Feb. 25, 2013.
UPDATE: A search for attackers in this case has been called off after police determined the man set himself ablaze in a suicide attempt, officials said Wednesday. Click here to read the complete update.
A man was doused in lighter fluid and set ablaze early Monday, and the attackers are still at large, authorities said.
The incident happened about 6:30 a.m. near the corner of Calvert Street and Ranchito Avenue in Van Nuys.
LAPD officials are not sure what motivated the attack; though neighbors reported hearing the attacker may have tried to rob the victim before setting him on fire.
The victim, whose name was not released, suffered burns to the back of his neck and to his hands.
"When you think about what happened, it’s chilling," said Robert Efford, who saw the man on fire outside his home.
"We walked outside and saw a car pulled over there and a lady was screaming, 'I just called 911, there’s a fire.'"
That blaze had engulfed the man and two pieces of burning clothing, which he’d apparently torn off himself.
"We grabbed a blanket and put it over him and a pillow under his head. I felt really bad. It was pretty scary," Efford said.
LAPD arson detectives investigated the crime scene for several hours.
"I overheard them saying he had a gun to the back of his head, told him to kneel down, they doused him in lighter fluid, which he thought was gasoline, and said why are you doing this to me and they torched him," Efford said.
Monday’s attack happened just 2 miles from the Van Nuys bus bench where a homeless woman was set on fire in December. A suspect in that case is in custody.
"Between the gun shots in the middle of the night and gang warfare on the corner, we've had a few episodes," Efford said.
But it's this latest episode that has Efford in disbelief. "To do that to a human being, what sort of animal would do that?"