A 38-year-old man found ablaze in an open area near Mission Bay Park, and whose death was likely the result of an accident or suicide, was an English teacher who gained notoriety seven years ago when he was imprisoned in North Korea and released with the help of former President Jimmy Carter.
An off-duty California Highway Patrol officer found Aijalon Gomes on fire in a dirt lot off the 5200 block of Pacific Highway late Friday night, according to San Diego police.
Gomes, who had recently moved to San Diego from his native Boston, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Though initially suspicious, Gomes’ death did not appear to be a homicide, SDPD Lt. Todd Griffin said.
“The preliminary investigation indicates the death is not a homicide but rather an accidental death or suicide,” he said.
The lieutenant added, however, that a final ruling would be on hold until the county Medical Examiner’s Office completes its review of the case.
In January 2010, Gomes was arrested in North Korea for illegally entering the country from China. He was sentenced to eight years of hard labor and fined $700,000.
In July of that year, Gomes attempted suicide while in custody, according to North Korean news accounts.
The following month, Carter traveled to the East Asian nation to call on its leadership to release the high-profile prisoner. Gomes was set free a short time later and returned to Boston, accompanied by the former president.
Gomes wrote about his ordeal in a 2015 autobiography titled “Violence and Humanity.”
—City News Service
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