Hate crime investigation opened after Jewish biracial woman set on fire

"I haven't really slept, and I don't really have an appetite. I don't want anyone to ever feel this way," Bernstein said on 'Good Morning America.'

Madison, Wisconsin (photo credit: FLICKR)
Madison, Wisconsin
(photo credit: FLICKR)
Police in Madison, Wisconsin, are currently investigating an incident where an 18-year-old biracial woman was burned with lighter fluid earlier this week in a hate crime, the department announced on Thursday.
Althea Bernstein is a biracial, African-American individual whose family identifies as both culturally Jewish and Unitarian, according to the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, quoting a family spokesperson.
She currently works as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), and is enrolled at Madison College, studying to be a paramedic and firefighter.
The four unidentified suspects, all white men, allegedly approached her driver-side window – which was rolled down at the time –  when she was stopped at a red light on W. Gorham Street, according to Bernstein.
After yelling a "racial epithet," the men then proceeded to use a spray bottle to project lighter fluid on the woman's face, afterwards throwing a flaming lighter at her and igniting the fluid on her face and neck, causing third-degree burns.
"I haven't really slept, and I don't really have an appetite. I don't want anyone to ever feel this way," Bernstein said on Good Morning America (GMA).
She noted that she mentally blocked out the incident saying, "I don't even remember a thing. But your brain still has fight or flight response that takes care of you. So I made it home, I called my mom and I drove myself to the ER."
After patting out the flames, she was able to drive home. When she arrived, her mother encouraged her to go to the hospital where medical staff identified the flammable substance as lighter fluid.
"Hospital staff believed the liquid was lighter fluid. She was treated for burns, and will need to make follow-up visits to access additional medical care," the Madison Police Department said in a statement.
The incident itself occurred just blocks away from the protests rejecting racism and police brutality at the Wisconsin State Capitol.
"It's definitely a learning opportunity, and I'm very hopeful that these men see all the responses, and they know that they hurt me and that this is something that will affect me for a while. I really hope that they choose to improve themselves," Bernstein concluded on GMA.
The responses were so widespread that former Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle – who is biracial herself – reached out to connect with Bernstein.
The two spoke over the phone for about 40 minutes on Saturday, discussing the challenges of being biracial, the importance of self-care and how to allow yourself to heal in difficult situations. The family spokesperson said Bernstein was moved to tears by Markle's outstretched hand, adding that Prince Harry joined in on the conversation for 10 of those 40 minutes.
Police noted that investigators are currently compiling surveillance footage from cameras in the area to see if they can bring up images of the altercation, in order to identify and prosecute the individuals responsible for the hate crime.
They are asking anyone with information related to this crime to contact Madison Area Crime Stoppers by phone at (608) 266-6014 or electronically at P3Tips.com.