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Chicago’s ‘Walking Man’ improves after being set on fire


A 75-year-old homeless man known affectionately to Chicagoans as the “Walking Man” has started to rebound from injuries suffered when he was set on fire in May while sleeping on the street.

A Stroger Hospital spokesperson confirmed to the Tribune on Thursday that his condition has been upgraded to “fair.”

Authorities had initially feared that Joseph Kromelis would die from burns sustained during the May 25 attack, which covered more than half of his body. The recovery appears to be taking place quickly, as reports from just a week ago stated that he had improved from critical to serious.

Kromelis, who is recognizable to many downtown Chicago residents for his long, wavy white hair, mustache and signature coat, was sleeping under blankets in the 400 block of North Lower Wabash Avenue when police said 27-year-old Joseph Guardia dumped a cup of gasoline on Kromelis and set him on fire.

At the time, Guardia told Cook County authorities that he attacked Kromelis because he’s an “angry person” and provided no other motive. According to Assistant State’s Attorney Danny Hanichak, Guardia was captured on surveillance footage standing silently over Kromelis’ body for 16 seconds, before walking to a nearby intersection that had no traffic and returning to pour gasoline over Kromelis’ exposed head, leaving as Kromelis’s upper body went up in flames.

At Guardia’s bond hearing, Hanichak described a horrifying scene in which Kromelis remained on fire for approximately three minutes, trying to extinguish the flames on his body as he slumped against the wall.

Guardia was charged with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated arson in connection with the attack and was denied bond, with Judge Charles Beach II calling the attack “horrifying” and deeming Guardia a threat to the community.

The attack is the second that the “Walking Man” has suffered in six years. In 2016, Kromelis was beaten by someone carrying a baseball bat, an attack that left him hospitalized for several weeks. Then, well-wishers rallied around the local celebrity and raised more than $33,000 on a GoFundMe page in support of his recovery. At least two GoFundMe’s have been created in the wake of the most recent attack, each raising about $5,000 for Kromelis.

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