Althea Bernstein, an 18-year-old Black woman from Wisconsin, was reportedly on her way to her brother's house this week when she alleges she was attacked by four white men who attempted to light her on fire. According to Bernstein, she suffered second and third-degree burns after the men used a spray bottle to douse her with lighter fluid before throwing a lighter at her.
The incident is now being investigated as a potential hate crime.
“I was listening to some music at a stoplight and then all of a sudden I heard someone yell the N-word really loud,” she told Madison365, a local non-profit media group. “I turned my head to look and somebody’s throwing lighter fluid on me. And then they threw a lighter at me, and my neck caught on fire and I tried to put it out, but I brushed it up onto my face.”
After learning about the case, the Duchess of Sussex personally reached out to her.
According to Michael Johnson, the acting spokesperson for Bernstein and the president of the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, Meghan and Bernstein chatted for nearly an hour. "[Bernstein] and Meghan talked about the importance of self-care and allowing herself to heal," Johnson told Channel 3000. "And she applauded her for the way that she responded and pretty much said, 'Hey Michael, give me her cellphone number. I want to stay in touch. And let me know when you want me to come back and talk to people in Wisconsin.'"
Following the phone call, Meghan reportedly agreed to speak with young people from Wisconsin, which will be scheduled in the coming weeks. “As I heard her, I thought ‘She has to talk to more kids,’ and I’m thankful she agreed to do it,” Johnson said of Meghan, after comparing her compassion to that of "a seasoned high school counselor."
Following the attack Johnson released a statement on behalf of Bernstein's family stating that they were “saddened at what happened to Althea and the unprovoked attack on her body. At this time, our family is asking everyone to respect our privacy as Althea is recovering from the burns on her face and neck.”
"I can't even describe it," he said. "Like, what they did to her and to see those scars on her face and what she's going to have to go through to heal from, that it's just, that's what her mum and dad want to focus on."
The Madison Police Department is looking into surveillance footage of the incident, police spokesman Joel DeSpain said in a statement.
The attack comes in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests happening around the world, following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain, and countless others.