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American once held prisoner in North Korea found burning in San Diego, dies of injuries

North Korea propaganda video (YouTube)

Investigators suspect the death of a 38-year-old man who was found on fire in the Mission Bay Park area on Friday was an accident or a suicide, San Diego police said Tuesday.

An off-duty California Highway Patrol officer was driving west on Pacific Highway near Sea World Drive about 11:30 p.m. when he saw the man on fire, homicide Lt. Todd Griffin said. The officer stopped to help, but the man died before he could be taken to a hospital.

He was identified as Aijalon Gomes, who had recently moved to the San Diego area from Boston, Griffin said.

Jacqueline McCarthy, Gomes’ mother, confirmed her son was the same Aijalon Gomes who illegally crossed into North Korea from China by walking across a frozen stretch of the Tumen River in January 2010.

He was apprehended by border guards soon after. He was sentenced to eight years of hard labor and fined $700,000.

“I know it affected him,” she said of her son’s incarceration.

McCarthy said her son tried to commit suicide several times before former President Jimmy Carter helped negotiate his release in August 2010.

“He was a beautiful person,” McCarthy said, later adding, “He was selfless. He was always giving his last to everyone.”

San Diego detectives called to investigate don’t believe Gomes’s death was a homicide, but the medical examiner’s office will determine the official cause of death.

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© 2017 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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